Chapter 14 : Chapter Fourteen - Severus
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As soon as I’d seen Avrille leave the castle after dinner, I followed her down to Hogsmeade immediately. I walked as quickly as I could while still maintaining my dignity but lost sight of the carriage long before I reached the castle gates, where I would be able to Apparate directly into the village. I did this as soon as it was possible, but I saw no sign of Lucius’s carriage around where I had appeared in the village square. It was possible the driver had dropped her off at the appointed meeting place then drove on since Lucius obviously had much quicker means to return to his manor himself.
I set off down the High Street to look into the Three Broomsticks first. I had no idea what I was going to do once I found the place where Avrille and the governors were. I was concerned an appearance of mine would clue in Lucius to my distrust of him and also be taken as a sign of how much I actually did care for Avrille. If only I had someone else to take along down to Hogsmeade, a drinking partner to make me look less suspicious, but in the past I had always gone to Hogsmeade alone.
I stopped at the Three Broomsticks but saw no sign of Lucius or Avrille inside the busy tavern. The next likely spot, and probably much more likely if Lucius had any dishonourable notions in his mind, would be the Hog’s Head. Practically anything could happen in the Hog’s Head. Though Aberforth had once been a member of the Order of the Phoenix, it didn’t mean he would care if Lucius seduced young women in his pub, as long as he paid the tab first. Fortunately, I hadn’t needed to actually go into the place since Avrille herself came storming out just as I was about to enter. I was glad she allowed me to escort her back up to the castle; Lucius was not known to have an even temper when scorned.
Once we were both back at the school, it took every ounce of long-practised self-restraint not to return to the Hog’s Head and force poison down Lucius’s throat. Though Avrille had not divulged any details of what had happened there, I knew Lucius had upset her, and for that alone I wanted his blood. Even so, I found my anger flavoured with a hint of guilty relief. It was safe to assume Lucius had tried to force himself on Avrille, and judging from her fiery exit from the tavern, he had not succeeded. I am ashamed to admit one of my greatest fears had been that Avrille would be open to his advances and willingly accept them. The fact that he was married and a father had never seemed to bother Lucius’s other mistresses in the past. Though I wanted to believe Avrille’s character was beyond reproach, I did not know her well enough to conclude for certain she would not give into his overtures. With Lucius’s polished good looks, vast wealth, and effortless charm, I could never hope to compete.
Wanting to put the incident behind me, as I’m sure Avrille did as well, I decided not to mention anything that had transpired the previous night when we met the following afternoon to add the final ingredients to the Wolfsbane Potion. I had arrived in the workroom a few minutes before the hour and had just turned the heat up under the main cauldron when Avrille entered. She looked a little pale, as if she hadn’t slept very well, but she perked up instantly as she approached the work table to see what I was doing.
“Hi! What do you want me to do?” she asked immediately, her perfume enveloping me as she breezed past to place her bag on a far table. She fetched out her dragon hide gloves from a pouch and joined me at my side in front of the cauldron.
“There are only two more ingredients,” I said, pointing to another table where I had set out the moon cactus and the Ligurius stones.
“I’ll crush the Ligurius if you want,” Avrille offered, pulling on her gloves.
“If you wish,” I replied, a little surprised that was the ingredient she chose to work on. “The stones are fairly fresh, under five days old, so they haven’t begun their transmutation into carbuncle yet. They should crush without much resistance.
“You might want this,” I added, Conjuring another white facial mask.
“That’s probably a good idea,” Avrille said and accepted it with a knowing smile; a Ligurius was, after all, crystallised lynx urine.
Avrille set about crushing the Ligurius stones with a mortar and pestle as I stood across from her at the table and cut open the moon cactus, slicing it into small pieces. The Ligurius crumbled easily under her forceful pressure. Her deep brown eyes, the only part of her face not covered by the mask, showed a keen concentration with no hint of the disgust I usually saw in the looks of the fifth-year students, male and female both, when I announced we would be using the crystals during class. Since I finished extracting the juice out of the moon cactus quickly, I watched Avrille’s progress, telling myself I was simply supervising her preparation of a key ingredient, though I knew staring at the graceful curve of where her neck met her shoulder had nothing to do with that.
“I heard there was another attack last night,” Avrille said quietly.
“Yes,” I replied, forcing my gaze back down to her mortar as she looked up at me. “Colin Creevy was petrified, just like the cat.”
Avrille gasped, making me glad she was wearing that mask, or else she probably would have just inhaled a mouthful of yellow dust. “Not Colin! He took my picture for that little article The Hogwarts Herald did on Lockhart and me as new staff.”
I nodded. I knew that quite well since I had kept that particular issue of the school paper, locked securely in my desk in my rooms, for the very picture she had mentioned. I couldn’t resist the temptation of being able to look at her whenever I wanted. Fortunately, Lockhart had been photographed separately, so I had been able to take the gruesome pleasure of slicing free his image and burning it slowly.
“This is serious …” Avrille murmured, her efforts with the pestle becoming slightly more aggressive as she worked out her anger over the attack.
“It is,” I agreed solemnly. “The headmaster doesn’t know what to make of it. Creevy has been brought to the hospital wing, but there is little Madam Pomfrey can do until Professor Sprout’s mandrakes are full-grown. Hers are the only ones in the country at the moment.”
“What could be causing it, though?” Avrille asked. “A student just doesn’t fall over petrified for no reason. Could something have wandered onto the grounds from the Forest or been brought into the school illegally? Like a gorgon or a cockatrice?”
I thought for a moment, frowning. “No, if anything came onto the grounds from the outside, Hagrid would know about it immediately. And if, for some unthinkable reason, a student brought a creature like a cockatrice into the school, there would be more than just a single petrified boy. No student here could control a Dark creature like that.”
Avrille shook her head, her eyes screwed up in anger as she pounded the pestle like a piston engine. “Who could want to hurt a sweet little boy like that?” she demanded furiously.
“I don’t know,” I said, rather untruthfully. The only thing I could think of was that if the person behind the attacks truly believed himself to be working on “The Heir of Slytherin’s” wishes, it would make sense to attack Creevy since he was Muggle-born. But that still didn’t solve the problem of how the attacks were being carried out. I knew from past conversations with Professor Dumbledore that when the Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years ago, it had been when the Dark Lord was a student here. Therefore, it had almost undoubtedly been his work. But the Dark Lord was vanquished for the moment. How could the Chamber be opened once more?
Avrille was just finishing the last Ligurius stone when a noise caught my attention. I glanced over at the main cauldron and saw, to my horror, that it was boiling.
“Damn it!” I yelled, making Avrille’s eyes shoot up to me in surprise as I dashed over to the cauldron and cut the heat.
“Was it boiling?!” Avrille asked worriedly, running up to my side.
“Yes,” I muttered between gritted teeth, furious at myself. I was supposed to have turned off the heat right when Avrille entered the workroom at three, but the distraction of her actual arrival and presence had made me completely forget.
“It is not supposed to be brought to a boil until all of the ingredients are added. If I don’t cool this immediately …” I couldn’t bear to finish the sentence aloud, but I knew what it would mean. The entire potion could be ruined, and I would have the singularly unpleasant job of informing St. Mungo’s that I did not have it ready for them. Unless the Healers had another source, there were going to be a fair amount of angry werewolves when the full moon came around in two days’ time.
In a flurry of motion, Avrille pulled off her mask and grabbed my arm.
“Sieve the foam off,” she said forcefully, pointing at the cauldron, then ran to the door.
“How can I cool this,” I said to myself. “An Icing Charm? No, that will just freeze the damn thing …”
“Severus!” Her impatient voice sounding my name for the first time snapped me out of my panicked thoughts. “Sieve off the foam!” she repeated with a commanding tone before vanishing out the door. Her order rang through me, and before I knew it, I had picked up a spoon and was quickly scooping white foam off the top of the potion. My hand shook with anger; if this potion was ruined, it would be one of the most embarrassing things to ever happen to me. I wished I knew where Avrille had gone because I really could have used another brain at the moment to think this through.
I had just ladled out the last of the foam when Avrille came sprinting back into the room, a small wooden box held in her gloved hands. From a side table, she grabbed a pair of tongs then shouldered me aside. As she opened the box and I leaned in to try and view the contents, I was hit in the face with a blast of freezing vapour. With the tongs she scooped something out and dropped it into the cauldron. For a moment we just stood there, Avrille apparently studying the potion for a reaction and I just plain dumbfounded.
“How long do you think it had been boiling for?” Avrille asked.
“No more than a minute,” I answered.
“It should be all right, then …” she murmured. She turned to me and said, “Get the moon cactus juice,” as she put the box down. I obeyed instantly as she grabbed the powdered Ligurius.
Back at the cauldron, Avrille took a deep breath then said, “Pour the juice in.” I followed her instruction and scraped the juice off of the cutting board with a silver dagger. Avrille leaned over the potion and watched it for a moment.
“Ok. Nothing’s supposed to happen, right?” she asked.
“No, the cactus juice is just a reactant, the Ligurius being the catalytic reagent. The Ligurius, however …”
“—Should turn the potion yellow. So, if it turns yellow …”
“—It’s not ruined,” I concluded. Avrille looked to me with a grim smile and dumped the contents of the mortar into the cauldron. We stood there for a few eternal seconds, then the potion slowly changed to a pale goldenrod. We both let out enormous sighs of relief.
As soon as I could talk again, I asked, “What did you put in there?”
Avrille picked up the wooden box once more, held it out to me and said, “Ellesmere Diamonds.”
I took the container from her. It was plain except for a label of a maple leaf made out of snowflakes. “Which are?”
“Ice chiselled from the polar caps and enchanted to remain at sub-zero temperatures as long as they are kept in their sealed box. I figured it was the only way to instantly cool the potion without altering its pH. I ordered some a few weeks ago in case I needed them in my research and had put them in your storeroom for safekeeping. I hope that was all right,” she finished, sounding a little nervous.
“All right?!” I asked in disbelief. “It was brilliant! I’ve never heard of these before. Could you make another order for me? I’ll reimburse you, of course.”
Avrille smiled, her cheeks colouring a little. “My uncle exports them. I can get them free of charge.”
I shook my head and handed the box back to her. “I don’t know what to say. I’m quite embarrassed, actually; I panicked. I’ve made this potion so many times, and I have never made that mistake before.”
Avrille smiled again kindly. “Then it’s only natural you didn’t know how to react,” she said and deposited the box in her bag.
“We’re all done here, then,” I said. I turned the heat back up under the potion to the correct temperature it needed to be set at to simmer overnight, triple checking it for good measure. I turned to Avrille, knowing I was completely incapable of expressing the full extent of the gratitude I was feeling towards her at the moment.
“Thank you,” I finally said.
Avrille shrugged. “No problem. I’m just glad I could help.”
We both decided it would be best to leave the potion behind in the workroom before anything else happened to it. Avrille left me at my office, having a Herbology evaluation to write, and I watched her go, at once both humbled and exhilarated. That was the first time an apprentice had ever taught me something, and I could not have been happier about it.
Finally the next day, the Wolfsbane Potion was completed. I was never so glad to hand off a potion to someone else than that afternoon when I brought it to St. Mungo’s Hospital. All of the tests I had conducted on the potion that morning showed it to be brewed perfectly. At the hospital the Healers all thanked me profusely for my continued participation in the program, though I wished Avrille had been there to accept their appreciation instead. After all she had mostly brewed the entire thing without my help. I made a mental note to inform the Healers of Avrille’s prodigious potion-making skills once her apprenticeship was complete. The hospital always needed Wolfsbane, and I was more than confident Avrille could brew it just as well as I could now.
For the next few weeks, things went back to relative normal. There had been no attacks following Mr Creevy’s, but there were also no leads on the cause. Professor Dumbledore was taken to wandering the corridors at night, silent and in deep contemplation. He did not ask any of us teachers about the attacks, not that we would have had anything to tell him. From what I could garner listening to my students in Slytherin House, they were all interested in what was happening, but all talked as if they had no idea who the perpetrator was.
Now that the Wolfsbane Potion was completed, I rarely saw Avrille out of class. I didn’t often have enough extra work to ask her to mark, though she did assist me one or two more times. In class or around other people, she continued to address me as Professor Snape, but in my office she always called me Severus. I tried to savour every moment I was with her, knowing as each week progressed, it was one more week gone from her apprenticeship.
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