Chapter 12 : Chapter Twelve - Severus
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That Hallowe’en turned out to be one of the more memorable I had experienced at Hogwarts, even eclipsing the one four years prior when a slightly inebriated Hagrid had tipped his chair back too far and smashed half of his carved pumpkins. Professor Dumbledore and I had had to act very quickly with the Aguamenti Charm to douse the pumpkins’ candles before Hagrid’s beard caught fire. But this Hallowe’en … I could never have anticipated something like this happening. The fact that Professor Dumbledore had not been able to reanimate Filch’s cat had unnerved all of us staff members, though very few of us would have admitted it out loud.
After leaving Lockhart’s nauseating office, I had asked Minerva for her take on the matter. She replied, rather stiffly, that it was probably just a practical joke in very poor taste and coolly suggested I investigate which members of my own House were not at the feast. She was obviously still peevish from my suggestion that Potter be banned from playing Quidditch. Well, what had she expected? It had been worth a try.
I had asked Avrille the previous afternoon if she would mind marking some of the first-years’ assignments. I was already accumulating a slight backlog of homework, and having to attend the Hallowe’en Feast and then the business with Filch’s cat afterwards resulted in me having even less time for marking than usual on a weekend. Normally, I would have not set an apprentice at such work so early in the term, but Avrille had shown already she was not your average apprentice. Avrille cheerfully agreed to help me, so after a late breakfast the next morning, she followed me down to my office.
Once inside, I moved the chair that normally stood in front of my desk to beside me so Avrille would have a good surface to write on. It would also make it easier for me to review her corrections. Very well, I just wanted her to sit next to me.
“All of these?” she asked with a slight edge of disbelief as I deposited a tall stack of papers on the desk in front of her.
“Yes, unfortunately,” I replied. “The past few days I have been busy grading the N.E.W.T. students’ mid-term projects so they will have their most recent marks to begin their applications to graduate school. The first-years have, therefore, been a low priority.”
“I see. I’m glad I can help you, then,” Avrille said as she divided the homework into several, more manageable stacks. “At breakfast, Lavinia mentioned something to me about Mr Filch’s cat being attacked last night. What was that about?” Avrille asked curiously as she dipped her quill into the bottle of red ink I had provided.
“Yes, it happened during the feast, apparently,” I replied and told her everything that had happened from the moment we found Potter and his friends suspiciously at the scene of the attack to the conference in Lockhart’s office. For some reason I found myself omitting that I had been the one to accuse Potter of attacking Mrs Norris.
Avrille shook her head and laughed as she drew a line under a misspelled term in the essay in front of her. “Harry? Attack Mrs Norris? Now that’s probably the most unlikely thing I’ve ever heard!” she said, and I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, very glad I had not given all of the details of the meeting after all.
“Besides, I thought he, Hermione, and Ron Weasley were at that deathday party down here in the dungeons you warned me Sir Nicholas would be having?”
“Yes, they were, but their being in that corridor at all was still suspect. It does not lead from the dungeons to their common room and obviously not to the Great Hall,” I replied, trying to argue my original observation, though now thinking my words sounded slightly desperate.
“Isn’t there a ladies’ room right in that corridor?” Avrille asked as she gave the paper she had been reading a nine out of ten. “Maybe Hermione just had to go to the bathroom really bad.”
“Yes, well, perhaps,” I conceded.
“And not to mention none of those kids would be able to curse Mrs Norris like that. Maybe if they were graduate students at a school that specialised in the Dark Arts, but as second-years?” Though Avrille was just arriving at the same conclusions Minerva and Professor Dumbledore had reached the night before, coming from her lips the words made me feel like a fool for my previous suspicions. It was arguable that if it had been three Slytherin students found in that corridor last night, I wouldn’t have suspected them at all, even though the message about “Slytherin’s Heir” would have made them much more probable culprits.
Avrille shrugged her shoulders and started marking up another paper. “Anyway, I’m sure the whole thing isn’t much to worry about. Mrs Norris will be all better when the mandrakes are harvested, so whoever did it really didn’t cause any lasting harm.”
I made a non-committal noise in reply. Since Avrille was not from Hogwarts, it was highly unlikely she had ever heard of The Chamber of Secrets before. When I had been a first-year, Lucius Malfoy and several of the other older Slytherin boys had tried to scare us new recruits with the legend, telling us that if we weren’t really pure-bloods, the monster of Slytherin would eat us. Perhaps last night’s events were just some of the same sort of hazing. With a grudging resignation, I decided to take Minerva’s advice and discreetly look into any Slytherin students who might have thought it amusing to reawaken the old tale.
I was just writing a few comments on Miles Bletchley’s essay when Avrille laughed quietly.
“What?” I asked, looking over at her. She looked back at me surprised, as though she hadn’t realised she had made a noise out loud.
“Oh … nothing. It’s really horrible. I shouldn’t even have thought it.”
“No, you see, now you have to tell me,” I replied seriously. Avrille stared at me for a moment, mischievousness pulling up a corner of her mouth while an apparent concern for propriety forced the other half of her lips to fight to maintain their straight line. I couldn’t stop myself from cracking a small smile of my own at her inner struggle, and that seemed to help her desire to confess win out.
“Well, like I said, it’s horrible, but I was just thinking Caligula would probably be happy if he knew Mrs Norris had been petrified.”
“And why is that?”
“Because he believes that he’s the only cat who’s allowed to scratch me,” Avrille replied, pulling up a sleeve of her robes to reveal a set of long, painful-looking slashes on her arm, just above her wrist. “I tried to pet Mrs Norris the other day, and she took a piece out of me,” Avrille explained.
I stared at her bare arm, angry that Filch’s mangy feline had dared mar that beautiful appendage. I also felt a small prickling of discomfort since the scratches were on the inside of her left forearm, reminding me sickeningly of something else entirely.
Wanting to remove the offending set of marks if possible, I said, “I could heal that for you.”
“Really?” Avrille asked, looking down at her arm critically. “I didn’t think they were bad enough to warrant any kind of medical attention.”
“It would only take a moment and would guarantee no scar forms.”
“Sure then, if you don’t mind,” Avrille replied, and she held her arm out to me.
Still not quite believing that I had dared to make the suggestion in the first place, I took her soft hand in mine to keep her arm steady as I withdrew my wand. Concentrating mentally on one of my own healing spells, I drew my wand slowly over each scratch until nothing but smoothly perfect skin remained. Then, quite unwillingly, I let go of her hand and stashed my wand back in my robes. My palm still tingled a bit where I had touched her.
“Thanks!” Avrille proclaimed, examining her arm up close with professional interest. “I wish I knew how to do that …” Then without further word, she turned back to her marking.
After that, we worked in silence for over an hour. I was greatly appreciative of Avrille, for with her added help we were steadily making progress through the slowly shrinking piles of papers. We stopped at lunchtime, and I thanked Avrille for the assistance, telling her I could manage the rest of the day on my own. Avrille left me behind in my office with one last smile. After she had closed the door behind her, I collapsed back at my desk, exhausted from the sheer effort it always took to remain cool and composed in her company.
The following week, the school was charged with the palpable energy that always preceded a Quidditch match. That it was the first match of the season, and Harry Potter would be flying in it, only made the excitement more paramount. It seemed I had not been the only one to think Potter’s presence at the scene following the Hallowe’en Feast was curious. Now whenever he entered a room, the whispers of the other students increased ten-fold.
I myself tried to put the boy out of my mind and concentrate on more important matters, such as the Wolfsbane Potion and the fact that Lucius Malfoy would be attending Saturday’s match to see for himself the generous gifts he had bestowed upon my Quidditch team. I was also just the smallest bit apprehensive because I had overheard Avrille accepting Lavinia’s invitation to watch the match together. I was desirous of keeping Avrille and Lucius apart, after he had expressed such an interest in her following their first meeting. This, however, seemed to be a bleakly fated wish since Lucius and Avrille were both bound to be sitting in the teachers’ section of the pitch stands.
The day before the Quidditch match happened to be Avrille’s first assessment with me. Although I had already, I hoped, let Avrille know through various ways that she was progressing extremely well in her apprenticeship, it was still required protocol for her and I to meet half-way through the term for a formal evaluation. I set the time for the meeting during my free period directly following lunch since Avrille did not have a Herbology observation either in that time slot. I ended up skipping lunch to catch up on some paperwork and became so engrossed in it that I started when Avrille knocked on the door at one o’clock.
“Come in,” I called as I swept the paperwork into one of the desk drawers.
Avrille entered and greeted me before taking a seat in front of my desk. As she leaned over to place her bag at her feet, her long hair, gathered into a thick plait, swung forward over her shoulder. With an exasperated sigh, she flung it back behind her as she righted herself.
“Now, Mistress Asphodel,” I began. “As I mentioned to you yesterday, this meeting is only a formality required by the Ministry’s Board of Education. If I had any qualms over your performance in my half of your apprenticeships, I would have certainly addressed them to you before now.”
“Good,” Avrille said with a smile. “I was hoping that was the case.”
I returned her smile with a small one of my own. I leaned back in my chair, trying to make myself more at ease. “Is there anything in particular you would like to discuss regarding your apprenticeship so far?”
Avrille shrugged. “Nothing that I can think of …”
“Are you finding the double workload manageable?”
“Yes, absolutely,” Avrille replied. “I’m actually really glad I decided to go for the dual apprenticeship since I’ll get to spend the whole year here at Hogwarts, instead of the usual six months. I think being able to see the arc of all three terms will be very helpful for me.”
“And after the apprenticeship? Have you given thought to your future prospects once it concludes?” This was what I was most desirous of learning, personally. Since I knew I would not be leaving the school anytime soon, and Pomona was, unfortunately for Avrille and myself, unlikely to retire so early, there would be no empty spot for Avrille to fill in the Hogwarts staffing next year, unless Professor Dumbledore suddenly had a change of heart and granted me the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. From what I had gleaned from conversations with my irritated N.E.W.T. students, Lockhart wasn’t teaching so much as using class-time for his own personal publicity sessions. I could not see the headmaster keeping that man on for another school year, especially after all of his students presumably failed their exams.
“I don’t have any definite plans yet,” Avrille said, “though Dean Proctor informed me there was a possibility of a position opening up at The Salem Witches’ Institute in a year or two. Until then I suppose I could just return home and continue with private research.”
That was not an answer I was happy with. Over the past few weeks, I had come to the regretful conclusion that I simply would not be able to go back to how things were before I had met Avrille. Even if I had to settle for being a work-related acquaintance, I could not bear to have her leave my life forever. Hoping it was a natural thing to suggest, I asked, “Have you considered remaining in Britain? Though there may not be a position at Hogwarts for you in the immediate future, there is always the possibility of a career in private instruction.”
“To be honest I’ve never even thought about that at all. Is it a job in high demand?”
“Very much so,” I said. “There are magical families throughout the country who have children with conditions which, for one reason or another, prevent them from attending Hogwarts. There are also always parents seeking summer tutors for children who’ve failed their O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s. The pay for a private tutor with a Master Professor’s Degree can sometimes be three times higher than that of a teacher at Hogwarts and with much shorter and more flexible hours.”
Really, Severus, try to sound less like a used-cauldron salesman, if you could.
“I was a private tutor myself for a time after graduate school,” I concluded.
“Really?” Avrille asked. “Before you came here? I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, for a period of a few months.” What I did not tell Avrille was that I had tutored the children of various Death Eaters in the Dark Arts. It had been Professor Dumbledore’s idea as a way to earn the trust of the parents and hopefully improve my standing among the Death Eaters, making me then privy to more sensitive information.
“Well, that’s definitely something I’ll look in to,” Avrille said. “I do love it here in Britain, and it’d be wonderful to be able to stay longer.” My hopes rose with her words. If Avrille did decide to remain in the country, then it was likely we would run into each other from time to time.
“Do you have any questions about anything else?” I asked.
“No, not as long as I’m meeting your expectations …” Avrille said hesitantly.
“You are. As I said before, you would have known by now if you were not.” Avrille’s posture relaxed slightly as though she had been nervous before.
“On a different note, I will be adding the final ingredients to the Wolfsbane Potion on Sunday afternoon,” I said. “If you wish to assist in this final step, I’ll be in the workroom at three.”
“Absolutely,” Avrille replied with a decisive nod. “I’ll be there.”
I glanced up at the clock. I had to go prepare for class soon. The meeting had not been long, but I could truthfully report that it had taken place.
“That’s all I have to say. You may go now,” I said.
“Thank you.” Avrille rose and fetched her bag from under the chair. As she opened the office door, she turned back to me and said, “Good luck with the Quidditch game tomorrow. I’ll be cheering for you!” Then, with one more gorgeous smile, she left.
Saturday morning dawned with dubious weather. The sky in the Great Hall was dark with thick clouds that rumbled slightly as we all ate breakfast. From what I could see from the staff table, the Slytherin team seemed to be in high spirits in contrast to the Gryffindor team, who sat together sullen and silent. The majority of the students seemed too excited to eat, and most of the hot breakfast spread went untouched. Finally, at eleven o’clock, I offered Minerva a conciliatory good-luck handshake, which she accepted with her lips pursed into a thin line. I found Minerva’s continuing indignation over Lucius’s gift to be rather rich since she herself had petitioned Professor Dumbledore last year for a brand new racing broom for Potter, using school funds.
Though it was not actually raining outside, the air was humid. At least a shrill wind off of the lake kept it from being too oppressive. At the entrance to the Quidditch stands, I found Lucius waiting for me, dressed as usual to show off his wealth to the finest, tailored degree. We climbed the stands together and found seats in the teachers’ section, directly below where Professor Dumbledore was positioned at the summit. Gilderoy Lockhart was stationed right beside the headmaster and was going so far as to rest his arm on Professor Dumbledore’s chair, with the airs of a trusted councillor advising a king.
Lucius took in the sight with a raised eyebrow. “Quite an interesting choice of Dumbledore’s for the new Defence teacher,” he mused as we took our seats.
“Quite,” I replied icily.
Over the murmuring buzz of the crowd, a quiet tapping could be heard as large raindrops started to beat a slow staccato on the canvas awning protecting the teachers’ seats from the elements. However, it soon stopped as though the weather couldn’t make up its mind on how to behave. In the distance a deep rumble of thunder rolled. My eyes sweeping the crowd in front of me, I soon picked out Avrille sitting a few rows below us with Lavinia, who was waving a Gryffindor flag. Suddenly, cheers erupted from the crowd as the two teams emerged from their locker rooms.
“Why, Severus,” Lucius said as he clapped lightly for the Slytherin team’s appearance, “I do believe I see that charming little apprentice of yours. Avrille, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I replied curtly. Glancing out the corner of my eye, I saw Lucius had his gaze fixed on Avrille as he continued to clap distractedly. He did not even notice Draco, who had given his father a small wave as he flew by the stands.
“I hope Narcissa is well,” I said pointedly, now openly glaring at Lucius with my arms crossed as he leaned forward slightly to see Avrille better.
“Quite well, thank you,” Lucius replied offhandedly.
“I would have thought she’d be here to see Draco’s first match.”
Lucius shrugged and sat back against his chair finally, turning to me slightly. “Her mother became suddenly ill last night. We think it was bad oysters. Narcissa went to St. Mungo’s to visit her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I wish Mrs Black a quick recovery.”
Lucius waved my comment away with a flick of his suede-gloved hand. “Yes, well, she is getting on in years.”
The faint shriek of Rolanda Hooch’s whistle sounded across the Quidditch pitch, bringing our attention back to the match as all fourteen players shot into the air. The power of the Slytherin team was immediately apparent, the players streaking by the stands so quickly it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. Lee Jordan, the Gryffindor commentator, seemed to be having the same difficulty and was unable to report exactly which Slytherin Chaser scored the first goal. Draco was only distinguishable by his position circling high over the pitch.
I was happy that now the match was underway, Lucius’s attention remained solidly on his son. I, having only an interest in the final outcome and concerned very little with the process as long as Slytherin won, allowed my gaze to wander over Avrille as often as I dared. The chill wind had begun to gust more fiercely, sending Avrille’s hair flying around her. After a few unsuccessful attempts to gather it together, she managed to stuff it down the back of her coat.
I had been so occupied with watching Avrille that I hadn’t noticed anything strange occurring in the match until I heard another sound of Madam Hooch’s whistle. I looked back to see the Gryffindor team huddled together near the ground. The rain began falling now in earnest, drumming on the canvas roof and on the countless umbrellas students were quickly opening. After a moment of discussion, the Gryffindor team was back in the air, and I was finally able to see what had caused the time-out.
One of the Bludgers was disregarding its normal function of bombarding every player in the air and was trailing after Potter with murderous, single-minded intent. I found myself reminded suddenly of the first Quidditch match of the previous year, when Potter’s broomstick had been bewitched by Quirrell. I had almost exhausted myself trying to counter the curse, not understanding at the time that it was the power of the Dark Lord himself I fought against. However, the Dark Lord’s spirit had fled after Quirrell’s death. It was highly unlikely this Bludger was acting so strangely because of him.
I scanned the crowd around me, but if someone was charming the Bludger, they were doing it imperceptibly. Lucius had a smirk on his face, but his eyes were on his own son. I turned back to glace at Professor Dumbledore. His eyebrows were knit in concern, but he did not seem worried enough to stop the match. Since there seemed to be no visible signs of wrongdoing from anyone near me, I sat back and tried to catch the score from Jordan’s commentary, almost indiscernible from the roar of the heavy rain.
Just then a collective gasp rose from the crowd. Potter was shooting directly at Draco, one arm hanging limply at side and flailing grotesquely from the speed of his flying. Draco swerved away at the last moment. Potter dived towards the ground then crashed into the mud. Everyone craned forward in their seats to see what had happened, but it became instantly apparent when Madam Hooch gave three short trills on her whistle. Potter had managed to catch the Snitch. I fell back against my seat, furious. I looked to Lucius, who was sitting almost calmly, the rigid set of his jaw the only outward sign of his disappointment in his son.
The match over, we both rose to leave. Lucius did not speak to me and did not acknowledge anyone who called to him. Squinting through the rain while I stood in the queue for the stairs, I could just make out Potter, surrounded by his team-mates. He was still prostrate on the ground, presumably unconscious. I saw the back of Draco’s blond head disappearing into the Slytherin locker room alone.
As we exited the stands, both Lucius and I Conjured umbrellas. I was about to ask Lucius a question about the latest school council meeting when he increased his pace unexpectedly and broke away from me. I followed behind quickly, suddenly uneasy. Just as I had expected, he slowed down as he approached Avrille, who was sharing an umbrella with Lavinia while they walked towards the castle. I caught up with him just as he reached the pair. Lavinia noticed him first and poked Avrille on the shoulder. Avrille turned to him with a smile on her face, sending a needle of jealousy through me.
“Good afternoon, Mr Malfoy,” Avrille said with pleasant politeness. She smiled at me as well, but Lucius pre-empted her before she could greet me verbally.
“Please, we needn’t be so formal,” he said silkily. “Call me Lucius.” I bristled inwardly with concealed annoyance. Of course Lucius was not so dependent on formality as I was, where Avrille was concerned.
Lucius managed to push Lavinia’s umbrella away subtlety so that Avrille was suddenly sharing his. Lavinia shot Lucius a dirty look, which he ignored. She slowed her steps slightly so she fell back to walking beside me, clearly as interested in hearing the conversation as I was.
“Ah! I see you were supporting Slytherin today,” Lucius remarked to Avrille, pointing at the green and silver rosette pinned to the front of her coat.
“Yeah, I thought I should, being Professor Snape’s apprentice and all. I hope you understand that I’ll have to give equal support to Hufflepuff for Professor Sprout,” Avrille replied with a charming smile.
“What a conundrum, then, when Slytherin and Hufflepuff play each other …” Lucius mused. “You know, several of the other school governors and I are planning on gathering later in Hogsmeade for a drink, nothing formal. If you have no plans tonight, Avrille, I would be honoured if you would join us. We would all be quite interested in hearing your opinions of the school.”
Avrille hesitated for a moment. I wanted to shout at her to refuse. Even if all eleven other governors were there, I did not trust Lucius. However, there was no way propriety would allow me to convey such concerns to Avrille, which was precisely what I expected Lucius had counted on.
“That would be nice,” Avrille finally replied. “I could walk down after dinner. Where and when exactly are you planning on meeting?”
“Please, I will not hear of you walking down in the rain on our account. Allow me to send my carriage to collect you at the school at seven this evening.”
“Well, I don’t … I mean, that would be a lot of trouble for you,” Avrille replied haltingly.
“No trouble at all,” Lucius insisted. “It would be my pleasure.”
Avrille shrugged. “All right, then. Thank you very much, Mr Malfoy—” Lucius rose an eyebrow at her, “—I mean, Lucius.”
At this, Lavinia glanced at me with worry on her face. I gave her a pointed look and jerked my head in Avrille’s direction, hoping to convey silently for her to speak to Avrille about Lucius before she went down to Hogsmeade tonight. Lavinia nodded in understanding and picked up her pace so she was beside Avrille again.
“I’m starving. Let’s hurry up before the rain gets any worse,” Lavinia said, taking Avrille by the arm and practically dragging her back underneath her own umbrella. Avrille looked shocked for a moment at Lavinia’s behaviour, but then allowed herself to be pulled away.
“Until tonight then, Avrille,” Lucius called after them. Avrille looked over her shoulder and gave him a quick smile before turning back to talk with Lavinia.
Lucius watched them go then turned to me with a smug look, as though daring me to say something to him. He, of course, knew that I wouldn’t, and I hated myself for meeting his expectations. With a final smirk and a murmur of, “Should be fun …” he walked away in the direction of the castle gates. I was left behind to seethe in silent fury.
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