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Chapter 15 : Chapter Fifteen - Avrille
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Before I knew it, it was already December. Though still weeks away, thoughts of Christmas were making most of the students absolutely crazy. Severus unfortunately had to give out several detentions to those who simply couldn’t keep themselves quiet during class. The weather turned bitingly frigid, and the first true snow of the season blanketed the grounds in white. Every morning I woke up and stared out the window, thinking how incredibly lucky I was to see such beauty every day.
There hadn’t been another attack after little Colin, and most of the students seemed to forget anything strange had taken place over the past two months. They didn’t do it out of meanness; it was just easier for everyone to treat Colin’s condition as a strange accident and hope he was better soon. All of the teachers were keeping mum about the situation. Lavinia told me nothing like this had ever happened at Hogwarts as long as she could remember.
As for myself I was still working as hard as I possibly could every day. I had really liked Severus’s suggestion of private tutoring, at least until something permanent at a school opened up. The problem was that, as time passed, I was growing more and more fond of Europe. I missed home, but I also found myself much more attached to Hogwarts than I’d ever been to my other two schools. Not to mention Severus was here, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to Canada and never seeing him again. But all of that was still a ways away, so I tried to keep my focus on the work at hand which, despite the passing of the months, was not getting any easier.
Though Severus and I were certainly more cordial than we’d been at the beginning of the term, he still held me to his rigid standards. I did, however, find a little time here and there to work on some private research. Though I was never much of an inventor, I found myself becoming more interested in how existing potions could be modified for the better. It was pure luck I’d had access to those Ellesmere Diamonds and that they hadn’t reacted badly with the Wolfsbane Potion. But since they did end up working, I starting wondering what else could’ve worked as well. So during my small amounts of free time, I hung out alone in the dungeons, brewing simple potions and fiddling with the ingredients to see what I’d come up with.
One day a week or so into December, I’d been looking for ingredients for myself in the few minutes I had after stocking the student stores for the next class and was unable to find something I needed for my current project. I thought this was strange since Severus usually kept everything so organized. I decided it would be quicker to just go and ask him.
I could see as I approached from down the hall that the door to Severus’s office was open, an unusual occurrence. Even though the half-cracked door appeared to invite visitors, I poked my head in around the frame to see if I’d be interrupting him. Severus was seated at his desk, surrounded by paperwork and transcribing something rapidly into an open gradebook. I decided to wait and ask him later during class if he had a free minute. I pulled my head back out into the hallway, but apparently he’d already spotted me.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said, slinking back around the corner and taking a step into the office, “but I need some ingredients from your storeroom for a project I’m working on,” I said. Severus smiled faintly at me and put down his quill.
“You are always free to help yourself,” he replied.
“Oh, I know, it’s just that I don’t know where everything is, and I didn’t want to make a mess looking for it, so …” I trailed off, now sort of wishing I’d just looked a little harder on my own, but I’d already disturbed him, so I might as well get the help I needed.
“I already got boomslang skin and blackbrush nettles, but then I was looking for the viper fangs, and I didn’t see them right away, so I thought maybe you might be out of them, but your ledger said you should have plenty, and I wanted to double-check with you before moving everything absolutely everywhere, so the next time you went in you couldn’t find anything …” I stopped, realizing I was rambling. Severus was still smiling. Honestly, he never smiled at anyone except me; I must’ve been his prime source for daily entertainment.
He quickly rearranged the papers on his desk into two neat piles then rose, grabbing his robe off the back of his chair. “I can help you look; I have class in a minute anyway. I know the viper fangs are there somewhere. I just restocked last month.”
I nodded appreciatively then moved back into the hall to give him room to exit. He shrugged on his robe, pulled his office door closed behind him, and led me back down the corridor to the largest dungeon classroom. The torches flared to life as we entered, flooding the classroom with the almost cheery flickering light, which always seemed out of place with the dungeon’s dripping walls and musty smell.
“You’re observing today, correct?” he asked as he reached into his pocket for his keys. Finding them, he fit a large iron one into the ancient storeroom lock.
“Yes, this period. The second-years.”
Severus unlocked the door and held it open for me. I made my way into the small storeroom, squeezing into a back corner so he could have more room to look. Severus reached for his ledger on a shelf near the door and flipped through it quickly, running a finger down the pages as he scanned.
“Yes … I knew there should be plenty. Just give me a minute.” Since Severus was almost a head taller than me, he could see more easily what was hidden on the upper shelves. “Usually, I try to keep ingredients stored alphabetically to make them easier to locate, but I’ve been so busy lately I’ve just thrown things wherever they will fit,” he murmured as he shuffled thick clay jars and glass beakers back and forth, squinting at their labels in the dim light. His brisk motions were upsetting a thin layer of grime that seemed to coat everything in the room, causing dust to filter down onto his robes like a fine grey snow. I resisted the womanly urge to brush him off and just hoped he noticed eventually.
“Here we are!” he declared at last and pulled down a creased leather satchel, that’d been hiding behind a bronze urn of “phoenix ash.” He weighed out the amount I needed then tipped everything into the bag I’d brought, already containing the boomslang skin and dried nettles. Severus rearranged a couple of items on the shelves before realizing the futility of the exercise and stopping. He looked around the closet in discontent.
“I really must move all of this to a larger space. It’s practically a cell in here.” He then noticed the layer of soot coating his robes and beat it off impatiently. “Did you need anything else?” he asked, turning toward me.
“No, that was all that I had trouble with,” I said.
“Shall we, then?” Severus asked, with a motion for me to go before him. I must’ve tripped on a loose stone or something because before I could even process falling, my potions ingredients scattered across the floor and my breath caught with a jolt as Severus grabbed me around the middle, preventing me from crashing face-first onto the floor as well. After that first second of shock had passed, I realized Severus had his hands on my waist, while one of my arms was wrapped around his neck in a sort of unplanned embrace. I could feel his heart pounding through my palm that rested on his chest. His hair was brushing the top of my forehead, and I looked up to see his startled expression. Just as our gazes met, the bell sounded to signal the end of the period. Severus immediately dropped his hands from me, and I did the same reluctantly.
“God, I’m sorry!” I exclaimed. I knelt to collect my scattered ingredients and rub at one of my big toes, which was throbbing with pain where I’d stubbed it.
“Are you alright?” Severus asked as he crouched down beside me to help.
“I’m fine. I’m just such a klutz sometimes…” Especially around you, I added silently. Now my heart was pounding as I threw strewn-about viper fangs back into my bag.
“I seem to be incapable of going more than a few months without crashing into you. It’s not intentional, I swear,” I said. At that moment we both reached for the same fang, and our hands touched. I pulled mine away quickly with a nervous laugh. From out in the corridor, the sounds of incoming students grabbed Severus’s attention, and he rose, brushing off once more.
“Forgive me, I need to prepare class,” he said apologetically.
“Oh, go ahead! I’ll be there in a second.”
Severus walked out into the classroom just as the first swarm of students poured through the door on a wave of chatter, which was instantaneously silenced when they saw the professor was already there. I quickly scooped up the last of my spill while the students mutely took their seats and took out their books, parchment, and quills.
Severus had already written the day’s assignment on the board, a Swelling Solution, with a list of instructions and necessary ingredients. Without needing to be told what to do, the Slytherins and Gryffindors set to work gathering ingredients from the classroom supply I had just stocked. I stashed my own ingredients near the door and sat patiently at the front of the room, waiting for questions that probably wouldn’t come since most of the Gryffindors seemed too scared to ask, and the Slytherins knew Severus wouldn’t deny them answers.
While the second-years mingled around their tables preparing their cauldrons and ingredients, Severus made his way back over to me while keeping an eye on the Potter-Weasley-Granger trio, who were huddled together and whispering.
“Was everything still usable?” Severus asked quietly.
“I think so, from what I could tell. Sorry again about that.” I stared at my hands, which were smeared with dirt from fumbling around on the floor.
“Please, do not trouble yourself. It is entirely my own fault. I have been meaning to have Mr. Filch cement that stone down for ages. It’s such dense rock that the Sticking Charm wears off continuously. I will be sure to ask him tonight.” He glanced away from me at the sound of snickering from the Slytherin tables. The Malfoy-Crabbe-Goyle trio looked innocently back, and Severus returned his attention to me. I noticed that after he’d turned his back to them once more, Draco Malfoy flicked a puffer-fish eye at Ron Weasley, which was obviously the source of the Slytherins’ mirth.
I was about to direct Severus to the blatant immaturity of his prized student when he distracted me by asking the surprising question, “Are you chaperoning the Solstice Ball next week?” I wasn’t able to ascertain from his tone whether he was simply trying to make small talk or was actually interested.
“Probably. I thought it might be fun.”
Severus scoffed. “Fun? Having to supervise hormonal teenagers while listening to ghastly music so loud one cannot think?”
“I see you’ve been before,” I said wryly.
He grimaced for a response, which made me smile. “Professor Dumbledore asked me as well, of course, but I’m not sure whether or not I will.” Severus hesitated, looking down as he rolled his wand between his fingers. “Of course, if you’re there to share in the torture with me, the experience might be rendered marginally more bearable.” He looked up slightly.
“At the very least, you’d have someone else who’d appreciate viewing what on earth Lockhart’s dress robes must look like,” I said, grinning. Severus gave a small smile as well at the thought but retracted it quickly. He liked to exude a certain image when he was teaching and looking happy certainly wasn’t part of it.
“So … will you go?” he asked tentatively.
“Is that a formal invitation?” I replied, unable to keep a slight tease out of my voice.
Before he could answer, an acrid stench made our heads turn in the direction of—oh dear—Neville Longbottom, whose cauldron was emitting some sort of sickly green vapour.
“Longbottom!” Severus yelled and strode over to offer his criticism. I sighed, pitying the poor boy, who looked about ready to faint dead away from terror as Severus descended on him. Some of the Slytherins were snickering viciously, and most watched Neville’s latest debasement with relish.
“Back to your work, please,” I called out lightly to the Slytherins. They gave Neville one last gleeful look before returning their attention to their side of the dungeon. Severus had already moved on from Neville, his critique being not much more than a glare at the botched potion and a shake of his head before turning away, indicating pretty clearly that he didn’t believe the boy was worth the time it would take to humiliate him further. Severus was now making rounds, inspecting the progress of everyone else’s Swelling Solutions. I made my way over to Neville, who’d ducked under his table and appeared to be looking for something in his book bag. However, I caught the sound of quiet sniffs and saw him wipe his face on his sleeve before righting himself once more.
“Are you ok, Neville?” I whispered gently, crouching down next to him. Neville shrugged and stirred his foamy potion with a sort of hopelessness that was absolutely heartbreaking. As much as I cared for Severus personally, I refused to believe that any student could be unworthy of my help. Without Severus seeing, I whispered some helpful hints into Neville’s ear. Neville finally smiled a little and nodded in understanding. I straightened up and looked around to see if anyone else needed help. Severus was still moving about the room, pausing particularly, and not surprisingly, in front of Harry Potter with his arms folded. Severus dipped a ladle into Harry’s potion and poured the golden liquid back, shaking his head again. Even from where I stood near the Slytherin end, I could tell it was far too runny.
“I seem to recall writing on the board this potion requires five minced, de-eyed puffer-fish, Potter,” Severus said with his usual sneer reserved especially for Harry, “not four.” He tapped the table with the ladle where four pairs of discarded googly eyes stared up at the two of them. “I think I’ll take five points to help you remember better next time.”
Severus then turned and seemed to be heading back to check on Neville. I moved quickly toward him to head him off with some question or other, to give Neville a chance to institute the instructions I’d given him. A good thing it was, too, for a split instant after I walked away from the Slytherin cauldrons, there was a huge splash and loud shrieks from students. Severus and I whipped around to see Gregory Goyle’s potion had somehow exploded and showered everyone within a five foot radius with the Swelling Solution to grotesque effects. Gregory had received a face-full and was stumbling around with his eyes each as large as his cauldron, and Draco’s nose was quickly swelling to the size of a small watermelon (Serves him right, the little creep, I thought unashamedly).
Severus was across the dungeon in seconds flat to restore order. I was about to fetch the antidote from his desk at the front of the room when a sudden movement from the Gryffindor tables attracted my attention. Most of the Gryffindors were trying to look calm or hiding laughs behind their hands, but I caught sight of Hermione Granger’s fluffy brown hair disappearing into Severus’s private ingredient storeroom, the door to which I’d accidentally left ajar.
Severus startled me by yelling over the confusion, “Silence! SILENCE! Anyone who has been splashed, come here for a Deflating Draught. When I find out who did this—” [1.] he trailed off ominously as the affected Slytherins stumbled to him, various appendages engorged to astounding proportions. Pansy Parkinson needed to be aided by a couple girlfriends since her legs had swelled to the width of tree trunks. While Severus administered the antidote, I saw Hermione slip back into the classroom, something tucked into the front of her robes. Intrigued, I decided not to bring this to the attention of Severus, who had enough to deal with at the moment, and investigate later myself.
After all the students had been returned to normal, Severus swept over to Gregory’s splattered cauldron. With a pair of long tongs, he fished out something that looked like only a bit of burnt paper but carried a definite whiff of gunpowder. The room fell dead silent at once, and all eyes were fixed on their professor.
“If I ever find out who threw this, I shall make sure that person is expelled,” [2.] Severus said in a dangerous whisper while staring directly at Harry Potter. Harry blinked innocently back at him and looked genuinely puzzled.
The remaining ten minutes of class were hushed and tense. Severus’s fury fumed from him like the vapours steaming off the cauldrons as he checked each student’s potion on a very traumatized frog. He skipped Gregory’s Solution, which had already proven itself extremely effective. I saw that despite the accident, Gregory received full marks, probably the only time in his life. I was glad to see Severus passed Neville, whose potion had gained a goldish tint and was no longer emitting foul odours. Severus did throw me an ever so slightly suspicious glance out of the corner of his eye after grading Neville, to which I responded with my most charmingly innocent smile.
When the bell rang, it was a relief to everyone. “I want a whole roll of parchment detailing the history, uses, and correct brewing procedures of the Swelling Solution due next class!” Severus barked over the tolling chime. Most students groaned quietly but made a note of it in their planners.
The Gryffindors skittered through the door, the Slytherins giving them the dirtiest of looks; obviously, it hadn’t been a Slytherin who’d thrown the firecracker. Once the room was clear of students, Severus fell into his desk chair and rubbed his face with his hands.
“You didn’t happen to see who threw it, did you?” he asked wearily.
“No,” I answered apologetically. It was the truth, however I had a sneaking suspicion it’d been either Harry or Ron to create a diversion for Hermione to slip into the storeroom. I felt guilty not telling Severus this; he looked so drained and frustrated. But I knew Hermione was a model student and must’ve had a good reason for what she did. And frankly, I didn’t trust Severus to look past his prejudice of Harry and his friends to find out the truth before administering the punishment with which he’d threatened the class.
“Are you coming to lunch?” I asked.
Severus eyed me for a moment with his chin rested on his hand. “No, I think I’ll clean up a bit here first. I probably should reorganize the storeroom as well. You go on ahead.” He stood and waved his wand at the gargoyle sink in the corner, which started to weep fountains immediately.
I stood watching him for a moment. “Do you want any help?” I offered hesitantly.
“No,” he answered, rather brusquely, as he washed his hands in the sink. His posture was tense as he furiously rubbed a pumice stone between his palms. The firecracker incident had upset him more than I’d thought. He seemed to want to be alone for a while.
“I’ll see you later,” I said quietly and hurried out, picking up my bag on my way through the door. The dungeons were empty, but as soon as I climbed the stairs to the ground floor, students seemed to be everywhere. Most were heading to lunch, some back to their dormitories for a quick rest or some last minute studying before class. The air in the corridors buzzed with excitement from the quickly approaching holiday season. A group of fifth-year Ravenclaws were crowded around the notice board, reading the date for the last Hogsmeade trip before break.
Lunch was magnificent, like always. I sat next to Hagrid, who described Christmas at Hogwarts to me with boundless excitement, making me very glad I’d written to my mom, telling her I’d be staying here for the holiday. I ate a delicious ham sandwich, while Hagrid ate a whole ham. But even Hagrid’s cheery conversation couldn’t dispel the uneasy feelings in me. My mind kept wandering to thoughts of Severus alone in the dungeons and what I’d seen during the Potions class “accident.”
Finishing up my sandwich, I decided to go down and help Severus clean even if he insisted he didn’t need any. As a quick afterthought, I also took a cup of tea and a sandwich wrapped in a napkin with me. It wouldn’t do him any good to go without eating.
By now the entrance hall had emptied, as classes had resumed once more. I took the dungeon stairs slowly, trying my best not to slosh tea on myself. I went to the large dungeon classroom first, expecting Severus to still be there tidying up, but it stood dark, empty, and silent. I entered the classroom anyway, my movement triggering the torches to light. I placed the tea and sandwich down and walked over to the storeroom. After unlocking the door, which Severus must’ve secured before leaving, I glanced around inside to see if anything was out of place. It didn’t look like Severus had gotten around to organizing after all since the wooden cask containing the boomslang skin was still next to the scale.
Wait a minute.
Thinking back, I could see myself returning it to the shelf once I’d collected my supplies. I slid the lid off the cask and counted the leathery strips within. There were eleven in the box, and I distinctly remembered writing down thirteen in the ledger after taking what I’d needed. Is that what Hermione had come in here for? What on earth could she want with boomslang skin? I couldn’t think of a single potion under N.E.W.T. level that required it.
Shrugging to myself, I took up the refreshments once more, after locking the storeroom up tight, and walked back down the corridor to Severus’s office. Now that I wasn’t concentrating so hard on manoeuvring the tricky stairs with a hot beverage, I noticed the door was cracked, and I could see firelight flickering through the opening. Since my hands were full and I couldn’t knock, I prodded the door open with my toe and peeked around like I had done earlier. Once again, Severus was sitting at his desk with paperwork covering every inch of workspace. He was scribbling something furiously, with an expression on his face like the parchment had just insulted his mother’s honour; I sincerely pitied whoever’s assignment was being graded. I cleared my throat quietly, and Severus looked up, obviously surprised to see me again.
“I thought you might be hungry,” I said and walked over to his desk, placing the tea and sandwich on the only paper-free space there was, on top of his closed gradebook.
Severus seemed extremely taken aback. “Thank you,” he murmured gratefully after a moment and stared up at me with an unreadable expression.
“The tea may need reheating,” I said. He continued to look at me, making me rather uncomfortable since I didn’t know what he wanted.
“Is there anything I can help you with?” I asked finally. Severus started, obviously not realizing he’d been staring, and looked back at the mess strewn across his desk.
“I’m just marking the first-years’ homework, if you want to take some of it,” he said and tapped the cup with his wand, setting the tea steaming once more.
“Sure,” I replied and pulled up a chair next to him. He divided the parchment into two piles and gave me one with a quill and ink. We sat reading in silence for about ten minutes, the only sounds the crackling of the fire and the scratching of our quills.
Suddenly out of nowhere, Severus said, “I hate teaching.”
“No you don’t,” I countered instantly. He looked over at me in sarcastic disbelief.
“No, you love it. You’re just having a bad day.” I paused, staring back at him seriously. “Your tea’s gone cold again,” I said, pointing to it with my quill.
“Forgive me, and after all the trouble you took to bring it,” Severus said, and he warmed it up once more. He sipped it while deep in thought. I started to grade again, but he interrupted me. “So, have you decided to chaperone the Ball or not?”
I smiled. “Oh, I guess so. Wouldn’t want to miss a part of the whole Hogwarts experience.”
“Good,” he replied simply.
After a bit more grading, Severus looked up at the clock and said he had to get to class. “Seventh-years, thank God,” he sighed and put down his quill. “I cannot handle any more under O.W.L. today.” He thanked me once more for the tea, and I made him promise to eat the sandwich later. I left him to go back to my rooms and read until dinner, still feeling guilty about what I’d observed earlier in class.
Luckily, the next day I had a chance to speak with Hermione. I caught her just as she was leaving the Great Hall after dinner, flanked by her faithful boys Potter and Weasley. They were deep in conversation, and I had to physically step in front of them to catch their attention.
“Miss Granger, are you free?” I asked gently, but behind Hermione, Harry and Ron exchanged looks of absolute terror. Perhaps they feared I’d seen which of them had thrown the firecracker. Hermione, however, remained calm and nodded.
“I’d like to speak with you in private for a minute,” I said. Hermione waved the boys on, then I led her away from the Great Hall and up the marble stairs to my office. I opened the door and let Hermione enter ahead of me.
“Sit, please,” I said, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk. Hermione sat, though very stiffly with her back perfectly straight and her chin a little raised.
“Is there something wrong, Mistress Asphodel?” she asked. Her tone of voice made me feel like I was the one about to be questioned. I simply smiled and took my own seat, clearing a space in my voluminous piles of notes and books. I decided to come right out with it.
“Hermione, yesterday during your Potions lesson, I saw you enter Professor Snape’s private ingredient stores, which you know are off-limits to students.” I paused to see her reaction. She reddened a little when I said this but offered no other outward signs of alarm. I sighed and leaned forward to rest my elbows on the desk. Apparently Miss Granger was going to be a tough nut to crack.
“I didn’t inform Professor Snape of this because I wanted to talk to you first. I know you’re the top student of your year and that you and your friends seem to have a certain … capacity for landing yourselves in trouble while trying to do a good thing. I’m also sure that you wouldn’t venture something as risky as stealing from Professor Snape during a class and perhaps cause a rather explosive diversion unless you had a very good reason for it. So, I’d like to know that reason, if you can tell me.” I sat back, realizing I was taking a very risky approach to this by treating Hermione like someone who didn’t have to answer if she didn’t want to.
Hermione sighed and twisted her robe between her fingers. “I took some ingredients because I needed them for … something.” She looked up at me with an expression that read, “That’s not going to be good enough for you, is it?” and I countered with one that clearly stated, “No.”
“Does this ‘something’ have anything to do with the recent attacks around the school?” I prodded gently. Hermione nodded. “I know many students here are suspicious of Harry. I also believe that you, as his friend, would probably go to great lengths to clear his name and discover the true culprit. Am I also correct with that?”
Hermione nodded once again but clearly did not want to say what she was up to. I took a deep breath and realized I was rather stuck now. The fire was crackling merrily and helping to dispel the chill. I stared out the window for a moment, watching a few lone snowflakes float by. Finally, I decided there was really nothing I could do besides let it go or report her to Severus, which wouldn’t be pleasant for any of us involved.
“Well, Miss Granger, since as I said before, I know you wouldn’t have done anything to possibly rouse Professor Snape unless there was something very important at stake,” I said with extra emphasis that made Hermione grin, “I’m going to trust you and forget about the whole thing. However, if I ever see anything of that nature again, I will be forced to report it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hermione whispered, apparently astounded I was letting her go without punishment.
“I just hope whatever you’re working on will help solve these attacks.” I sighed and motioned to Hermione that she could leave.
“Thank you, Mistress Asphodel,” Hermione said sincerely and hurried from the room, leaving me behind to wonder if I’d done the right thing after all.
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