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 could not 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’ 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 England. I missed home, but I also found myself much more attached to Hogwarts than I had 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 friendly than we had 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 had 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 have worked instead. So during my small amounts of free time, I worked 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 had been looking for ingredients 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 strange since Severus usually kept everything so organized. I decided it would be quicker to just go and ask him.
I knocked quietly on the door to Severus’ office, not sure whether or not he would be there.
“Yes?” I heard his voice call. I opened the door slowly and poked my head in to see if I was bothering him. He was seated at his desk surrounded by paperwork. I considered coming back later, but he had already spotted me. “Avrille?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I need some ingredients from your storeroom for a project I’m working on,” I said. Severus smiled at me and put down his quill.
“You’re always free to help yourself,” he replied.
“Well, actually, I don’t know where everything is, and I didn’t want to make a mess looking for it, so…” I trailed off, leaning against the door. “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, and I wanted to check before moving everything absolutely everywhere, so the next time you went in you couldn’t find anything…” I paused, realizing I was rambling. Severus was still smiling. Honestly, he never smiled at anyone except me; I must have 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 have class in a minute anyway. Why don’t I help you? I know the viper fangs are there somewhere. I just restocked.”
I nodded quickly 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 an 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 dug in his pockets for his keys. Finding them, he fit a large iron one into the antique 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 I should have plenty. Let me see…” Since Severus was over a head taller than me, he could see more easily what was hidden on the upper shelves. “I try to keep things alphabetically to aid in their finding, but I’ve been so busy lately I’ve just thrown things every which where,” he murmured as he moved thick clay jars and glass beakers back and forth, squinting at their labels in the dim light. His furtive 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 had been hiding behind a large bronze urn of “phoenix ash.” He weighed out the amount I needed then tipped everything into the bag I had brought, already containing the boomslang skin and dried nettles. Severus rearranged a couple of items on the shelves and 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 go then?” Severus asked with a motion for me to go before him. I must have tripped on a loose stone or something because before I knew what happened, my potions ingredients scattered across the floor and my breath caught with a jolt as Severus grabbed me before I crashed face-first onto the floor as well. The first thing I noticed was my toe throbbing where I had stubbed it. Then I realized Severus had his hands on my waist as my arms were wrapped around him 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 quickly dropped his hands from me, and I reluctantly did the same.
“Sorry!” I breathed. I knelt to collect my scattered ingredients and rub my sore toe.
“Are you alright?” Severus asked as he crouched down beside me to help.
“Yes, I’m just so clumsy…” Especially around you, I added silently. Now my heart was pounding as I threw strewn-about viper fangs back into my bag.
“I just seem to be always 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’ attention, and he rose, brushing off once more.
“Forgive me, I need to prepare class…” he apologized.
“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, bringing with them waves of chatter which were 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 would probably not 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 sat around their desks 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.
“Oh, yes, 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, don’t trouble yourself. It’s my entirely my fault. I’ve 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’ll make sure to ask him tonight.” He looked up quickly at the sound of sniggering from the Slytherin tables. The Malfoy-Crabbe-Goyle trio looked innocently back, and Severus returned his attention to me. I noticed that after he had 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 alert Severus to the blatant wastefulness of his prized student when he surprised me by asking, “Are you chaperoning the Solstice Ball next week?” I wasn’t able to ascertain from his tone whether he was trying to make small talk or 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, it might not be so torturous…” He looked up slightly.
“At least you’d have someone else who would 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 concealed it quickly. He liked to exert a certain image when he was teaching and looking happy certainly wasn’t part of it.
“So… will you come?” he asked tentatively.
“Are you asking me?” I replied teasingly.
Before he could answer, an acrid smell 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. The Slytherins were all snickering loudly and watched Neville’s latest debasement with relish.
“Back to your work, please,” I called out lightly to the Slytherins who gave Neville one last gleeful look before returning attention to their side of the dungeon. Severus was now making rounds inspecting the progress of everyone else’s Swelling Solutions. I made my way over to Neville, who had turned away 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. Without Severus seeing, I whispered some helpful hints into his ear, to which he 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. 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 puffer-fish sans eyes, Potter,” Severus said with his usual sneer reserved especially for Harry, “not four.” He tapped the table with the ladle where four pairs of googly eyes stared up at the two of them. “I think I’ll take five points to help you better remember next time.”
Severus then turned and seemed to be heading back to check on Neville. I moved quickly toward him to head him off and give Neville a chance to institute the instructions I had 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 had 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’ private ingredient store room, the door to which I had 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 as the affected Slytherins stumbled toward 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 burnt paper but carried the definite whiff of gunpowder. The room fell dead silent at once, and all eyes were fixed on the 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’ 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 proved 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.
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 bell. Most students groaned quietly but made a note of it in their planners.
The Gryffindors quickly skittered through the door, the Slytherins giving them the dirtiest of looks; obviously it had not been a Slytherin who had 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 had 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 have 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 had 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.
“I’m fine,” he answered, rather brusquely, as he washed his hands in the sink. His posture was tense and rigid as he furiously rubbed a pumice stone between his palms. The firecracker incident had upset him more than I 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, others 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 to me excitedly Christmas at Hogwarts, making me very glad I had written to my mother telling her I would 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 had 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 good at all to go without eating.
By now the entrance hall was deserted as classes had resumed once more. I took the dungeon stairs slowly, trying my best not to slosh tea on myself. I first went to the large dungeon classroom expecting Severus to still be there tidying up, but it stood dark, empty, and silent. I entered the classroom, 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 have 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 on the floor.
Wait a minute.
Thinking back, I could see myself putting it back on the shelf once I had 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 once I had taken what I needed. Is that what Hermione had come in here for? What on earth could she want with boomslang skin?
Shrugging to myself, I took up the refreshments once more after locking the storeroom up tight and went back down the corridor to Severus’ office. Now that I wasn’t concentrating so hard on manoeuvring the tricky stairs with a hot beverage, I noticed the door was ajar, 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 while muttering angrily to himself, and I pitied whoever’s paper was being graded. I cleared my throat quietly, and Severus looked up, obviously very 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 empty space there was on top of his grade book.
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 for I didn’t know what he wanted. “Is there anything I can help you with?” I asked finally. Severus started, obviously not realizing he had 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 surprise.
“No, you love it. You’re just having a bad day.” I paused, looking 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 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 breathed and put down his quill. “I can’t 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 room and read until dinner, still feeling guilty about what I had 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 had seen who threw the firecracker. Hermione, however, remained calm and nodded.
“I would like to speak with you in private for a minute,” I said. Hermione waved the boys away, 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.
“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 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 did not inform Professor Snape of this because I wanted to talk to you first. I know you are 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 am also sure that you would not 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, all I would like to know is that reason, if you can tell me.” I sat back, realizing that 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 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 would not be pleasant for any of us involved.
“Well, Miss Granger, since as I said before, I know you would not have done anything to possibly rouse Professor Snape unless there was something very important at stake,” I said with extra emphasis which 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 breathed sincerely and hurried from the room, leaving me behind to wonder if I had done the right thing after all.
[1.] From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling, Page 187 (US paperback edition)
[2.] From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling, Page 188 (US paperback edition)
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