Chapter 6 : THE POTION MASTER’S STUDY
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The morning sun dipped the Great Hall into a golden glance. Dust danced like invisible powder in the light. It was still early and quiet. The tables almost completely empty. Dumbledore and Severus were talking quietly. Leonor felt uneasy as if an unknown might would oblige her to take sides. Dumbledore seemed almost ready with breakfast. Leonor took it as excuse to sit next to Severus.
“Good morning! Have you both had a good night?”, Leonor started conversationally.
“Very relaxing indeed”, said Dumbledore. “Have you settled down well?” His eyes blinked towards Leonor.
“Yes, very well. Scottish air prevents sleeplessness better than any sleeping draught. I’m looking forward to the spring to take a walk around the lake.”
“A wise decision, you’ll not be disappointed”, Dumbledore answered.
“Severus, have you been working with the theory of Nettesheimer?”, continued Leonor still talkative but determinedly changing the subject to potions.
Snape considered her a moment as if he had to find the reason for the change of subject before answering. Leonor held his gaze and smiled discerning some pleasure in his expression.
“There have been many improvements to Nettesheimer’s work. So why do you want to know about him?”
“I mean the latest theory of Heintz Nettesheimer, a younger descendant of Heinrich. There was an article in a periodical about two years ago, not of much importance, but likely a theory to use if the identification of potion’s components by Scarpin’s Revelaspell doesn’t work entirely.”
Snape smirked, but couldn’t answer anymore. A commotion had started outside and Professor McGonagall entered with two students, both Slytherin. Snape got to his feet and walked down the aisle his cloak billowing behind him. Leonor watched the conversation, but couldn’t figure the reason for the turmoil. McGonagall appeared thin-lipped and Snape furious. Leonor would check the hour glasses in the entrance hall later.
Dumbledore padded Leonor on the shoulder: “Please excuse me. I cannot contribute to Revelaspell or what was the other name? Hope you won’t be disappointed by Severus.” Dumbledore laughed inwardly and left the table.
Leonor blushed and felt sweaty. The connection with Severus didn’t go unnoticed. She tried to convince herself of simple collegiality and nothing more. At least some other professors had been talking to her in the past days and expressed delight in her close coexistence to muggles for many years.
Leonor finished the day satisfied. The work with the students improved and they had been released to the weekend. Leonor used precautional silencing charms for practical work now. After lessons, she sat in the staff room writing the report to Lupin. She’d like to discuss couple of things with him, but likely it had to wait until next month. Leonor had put her thoughts and observations into writing and sealed them walking sluggishly up to the owlery.
Nettesheimer and Revelaspell came back to her mind when entering her quarters recognizing the phial with the unidentified poison. Leonor looked at herself in the mirror. She released her hair from the tight bun and combed it through. A silver hair slide fixed it across her shoulder. She exchanged the long gown with the muggle clothes of the day before. She felt more youthful now. It was warm enough for the walk to Hogsmeade and it wouldn’t draw any suspicions at the arrival in London. Leonor seized the overnight bag. She gave the room a last careful look and conjured a thank-you-card to the coffee table for Hattie. The usage of the official way to the ground floor added some time to a final decision. McGonagall closed the doors of the Great Hall with a stern look when Leonor passed. Leonor informed her briefly of the departure tonight and was glad when the headmistress climbed up the marble staircases into another corridor.
Leonor turned to the dimly lit passageway into the dungeons. The two Slytherins from breakfast greeted remorsefully and vanished into the direction of their common room. Snape’s office was illuminated and the door open. He sat at the desk concentrated on a written paper, a pile of parchment next to him. Three buckets of toad spawn and another with eel eyes stood on the floor.
Leonor asked without preamble: “What did the boys get up to for being in detention?”
“Hexed some Gryffindor’s with a harmless but naughty charm and got themselves caught”, said Severus emphasizing the latter part of the sentence. Snape didn’t look up from the paper nor showed any surprise of her presence. There was a pause and Leonor looked around the office. There was the workbench with a simmering cauldron. The shelfs with all the rare potion ingredients for all sorts of draughts. It reminded her of the potions department at St. Mungo’s, smaller but very complete. The wood in the fireplace crackled by a decent fire. The mantelpiece was empty and without the usual pictures or any personal decoration. The wall next to the door was lined with books.
“I came to discuss Nettesheimer”, she stated bluntly.
“I can wait”, Leonor said and put the poison in front of Severus large nose.
She knew it was cheeky, but she wanted his opinion. She put her bag to the floor and the cloak on top to stress her willingness to wait. There was no sign of approval nor disapproval. If she had expected a friendly ‘sit down’, then she was mistaken.
She turned to the book shelf examining the titles. There were the periodicals and the edition with Nettesheimer’s theory, but nothing she didn’t know. The books were more interesting. None of them was standard reading and some clearly belonged to the restricted section. She started to browse them. Most had a scientific approach and on occasion she planned to borrow some for her own study. Snape’s passion besides potions were the dark arts. Leonor glanced at him remembering Matteo’s comment. He was still bent over the essays and unimpressed by her review of the book shelf. Leonor started to read a book marked as student’s property.
Severus was reading, but hardly realizing the content. He had been furious about the interrupted conversation at breakfast. The disgusting detention was a result of it much more than the boys’ misbehaviour. Surprisingly she had entered his office without invitation and didn’t attempt to leave without talking to him and made herself comfortable by reading as if he wasn’t there at all. The phial with the poison was marked with her name and the seal of the ministry and likely the reason for the interest in Nettesheimer’s theory.
He watched Leonor’s slender figure carefully. The muggle outfit was eye-catching and showed curves in the right places. He continued grading and glanced over to Leonor now and again. She had sat into the armchair reading Draco’s book. It made him feel uncomfortable. Severus maintained a grim expression before putting the papers aside and conjured gloves and instruments to his desk.
“Interesting read, isn’t it?”
Leonor startled. She had been absorbed by the book. “I’m reading the chapter about the blindness spells and trapping it into objects. It’s exactly what happened to Rose. You confiscated the book?”
“I found it abandoned in the common room. I presume it’s from a very old and well-organized library. Whoever brought it here will claim it back. I expect the rightful owner to show up before end of term.”
“Any guess about the owner?”
“Yes”, Snape said, but didn’t elaborate further. “You wanted to discuss Nettesheimer and I am right in the assumption it needs some analysis of the phial too?”
Leonor nodded. Severus put on the gloves and indicated Leonor to move over to his desk.
“I’ve to identify three blended-poisons for the exam and develop the antidotes. I’ve analysed the components of two poisons. But I miss the last ingredients of this one.” Leonor pointed at the phial. “I guessed the toxin is Atropine, likely Atropa Belladonna is the missing component, but without proof of the plant any antidote might be useless.”
Severus took the pipette and put a drop into a petri plate. The poison was uncoloured and without smell; almost like water, but the consistency like a thin syrup. He conjured a jar with blowflies and worked his wand quickly to extract one fly by avoiding the others to escape. He took the blowfly with a small pincer and put it into the poisoned drop. The fly was death at once. He nodded more to himself, removed the gloves and vanished the instruments.
“It’s worth to try Nettesheimer’s theory. Deadly Nightshade is particular difficult to detect in blended poisons”, said Severus quietly with an intensive look at the door. A sudden wave of his wand slammed the door shut. The floor shattered slightly. Leonor stumbled backwards. Severus got hold of her arm and wrist, but he let go immediately as if burnt. She stumbled over the bucked of eel eyes and the soggy mass landed on the floor. Severus rubbed his hand and glared at Leonor. She was pale and trembling. All colour had left her. There was sweat, likely cold sweat on her forehead. The wand was ready to strike. The tension became worse.
“What … sit down, you look dreadful.” Severus mastered a calm voice. He glanced at the unbroken phial. A contact with the poison could be eliminated.
Leonor moved a step closer to Severus mashing the eel eyes with the boots. He longed after her shivering shoulders to press her down into a chair. He hadn’t expected her offensive reaction, but deflected a new hex with a shield charm half-way into his chest. The power of the curse made him trip backwards. He stopped at the wall next to the fireplace still perplex. His left forearm felt bitingly painful.
Leonor’s voice was dangerously soft when speaking: “Never, never touch me again!”
A flick of her wand opened the door and seized the luggage. She left without another word. Leonor’s footsteps echoed on the cold stone until she had left the castle into the night.
Severus didn’t move watching the dark passageway through the open door. The phial stood still at his desk. It took him a long moment before realizing Leonor wouldn’t come back. He groaned and started to clean up. What had he done wrong, again?
Severus locked his office with the usual spells. The phial was safely secured in a private cupboard. The eel eyes had been sorted out and the floor was clean and dry. He had to remind the students to be canny with the ingredients. He didn’t like to buy from the apothecary in Hogsmeade; lousy quality and prices. The fire in his private room was blazing; a small comfort. He pulled up the left sleeve of his robe and winced. Severus sat down with a glass of wine, cleaned the cut from dried blood, considered the wound and sighed. He needed to figure out a healing treatment. It could take couple of days, maybe weeks. For tonight a commonly known pain-relieving ointment would do. Severus slept restless.
Leonor landed shaking and confused in the backyard of her house. She couldn’t clearly remember the flight to the gates. She checked all security measures before entering quietly into the hallway. She sat onto the couch in the unheated and dark sitting room; the head in her hands. She had panicked. She had forgotten all training, all the efforts avoiding the type of situation and to remain calm. The bang of the closing door was still echoing in her ears, painful and pitiless. Had she trusted the wrong person?
She felt broken and weak. She covered herself in a thick blanket, too tired to unpack, too worn-out to walk upstairs into the bedroom. She fell in an anxious sleep.
Leonor was still weary in the morning. She set a fire to the hearth and had a decent breakfast. There was still no detailed memory of the night before. Leonor went upstairs to the attic. Her small laboratory was already prepared for Nettesheimer’s experiment. Decent work would clear her mind and repel the nightmares.
The February presented itself with bright sunshine and beautiful hoarfrost on the bare trees; likely the last energy of the fading season. Pauline slept fluffy on the window sill. Leonor stared through the small window in the attic down to the bushes in the backyard, the small lawn and branches forlorn in the frosty gloss.
Leonor cleaned her workbench and vanished the leftovers. The mice from Diagon Alley were fed and locked in a small cage. Everyone had survived the poisoning with the freshly prepared antidotes. Pauline had eyed them greedily. Leonor didn’t feel enthusiastic walking downstairs to get changed for the restaurant.
“Hey, Francesco!” Leonor showed a put-on smile.
“Oh, my waitress is coming and expected in the kitchen promptly.” Francesco was cheerful as always and Maria likely tense getting everything prepared for the guests.
“Lovely Leonor, thanks for coming. It’s an anniversary tonight. Can you arrange the appetizers?”
Leonor worked absentmindedly. The late afternoon passed into the evening and the guests were busy with the main course. The workload of cooking had waned, and Maria stood with a steaming mug in the corner of the kitchen. Leonor polished some glasses with a tea towel.
“Leonor, are you well?” Maria asked with a questioning look.
“You look mousy and thin.”
“I’m a bit overworked.”
“How come? Richard told me you’ve managed two thirds of your exam preparations by now and there are still four months left? Or are you worried about the recently cursed handsome lad at the hospital?”, said Maria with a wink.
“Richard is exaggerating. I still must do the thesis and I’m not a step further with the third potion. The handsome lad is a reckless curse breaker employed by Gringotts. By the way he’ll make a full recovery, no need to worry really. I refused to work with that guy in Egypt, because of his impertinence. The Daily Prophet made a lot of his injury, but if you ask me, he’s just been careless and got himself trapped. Anyway, there’s something good about it. The staff department will reconsider a freelance contract for my ‘admirable’ work and the publicity improved the situation”, mocked Leonor.
“Still, you haven’t been yourself since a couple of weeks. You should be cheering about the prospect of the contract. What’s bothering you?”
Leonor thought hard about another excuse. “The apothecary in Hogsmeade is for sale. I think about a visit, but it’s at least another half year before I have the title issued by the ministry.”
“A visit cannot harm. I’ve never heard of an apothecary near Hogwarts. Matteo made us always buy at Diagon Alley and ship by owl. And what about that Professor, isn’t he of any help with the potion?”, said Maria.
“No, he cannot”, snapped Leonor moodily. Maria frowned and tilted her head. Leonor knew she had just given herself away.
Maria bored with a motherly tone: “You’ve defended him lately … talking … can help.”
Leonor snapped again: “You are not my mother.” Maria looked offended.
“Sorry, Maria I didn’t mean it. I like to talk to you of course. It’s just a bit difficult right now”, said Leonor abashed.
Maria gave her a look, as if she wasn’t concerned anymore and emptied the mug into the sink, but the creases on her forehead showed otherwise.
“The Professor and I had a fight. I cursed him, but I can’t remember exactly what he did to me. I thought actually he tried to attack.” Leonor shrugged.
“Interesting fellow, and why are you worried then? You’re obviously not physically injured.”
“Maybe he was … closing the door only. I’m becoming more and more sceptical about that night. We’ve been discussing the poison and he agreed to my theory. And then everything happened so fast. My curse was nasty.”
Maria looked stern. “Have you heard from Dumbledore?”
“No, and I haven’t heard anything from the school either”, admitted Leonor grudgingly, “It’s … I don’t know what to do. Snape deflected the spell, but maybe not completely.”
Francesco stuck his head into the kitchen: “I’d need some help with the bar. Leonor, please could you come?”
Leonor put the tea towel aside and followed Francesco; glad to escape the questions.
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