Chapter 16: Death Eater
The term flew by and Professor Slughorn remained pleased with my Potions skills. I was excused from homework almost every night until the end of term exams began to loom.
Through the term, the creature in the dungeon corridor sat at the back of my mind, begging to be acknowledged.
Today I had my Potions exam, my Charms exam and my Herbology exam. I studied hard in the weeks leading up to them, and I was confident that I would do well in these tests.
After breakfast, Lily and I made our way to Potions together.
‘Sev, what if I fail? What if Professor Slughorn says I can’t come to his Christmas Dinner?’ Lily was quite distressed.
‘Hey! Shhhh…’ I rubbed her upper arm as if to keep her warm. She was almost in tears. ‘You’ll be fine! You’re great at Potions! At everything in fact!’
‘But what if I didn’t study enough? Or I didn’t study the right things!’
I hated seeing her like this. It made me feel the same way… like somehow our desperate emotions were interlinked. I shook my head at the ridiculous thought.
‘Lil! You made a study table in every class when the teachers told us what would be on our exams! And you studied every night! You studied so much that I hardly even saw you for a week!’
She didn’t have time to reply because Slughorn opened the door and greeted us with the same greeting he had at the start of term, ‘Come in! Come in!’
The exam was a practical one where we had to make the brew, ‘The Forgetfulness Potion’ from heart.
This was even easier than the Cure for Boils Potion that we made in our first Potions lesson. I completed it easily and quickly so Slughorn let me start the paper exam.
There was hardly anything on there. I studied almost double what was asked of us. All that was on the exam paper was ‘Write down the effects of “The Forgetfulness Potion”’ and ‘Name the 12 uses of Dragon Blood studied this term.’
Lily, Archemus and I finished at the same time and were allowed to leave early.
We discussed the exam and how easy we found it before moving off to lunch. Once we had eaten enough, we made our way out onto the Hogwarts grounds. Lily left us to join Jasmine, Holly, Demitri and Kelly down by the lake and waved as she traipsed down the hill, her long, red hair swishing as she went.
Avery and I sat under the shade of a Willow tree with the lake in sight. We sat in silence, both unsure what to discuss now that Lily was gone. Just then, the rest of our Potions class burst out of the castle, laughing at something that obviously tickled the fancy of everyone in the class.
Regina and Infirmos made their way towards us, bent double with laughter. Regina was laughing so hard that when they stopped in front of us she put her hand on Mulciber’s shoulder for support and then rested her forehead on his shoulder and laughed at the ground.
Infirmos’ blush nearly sent me into fits of laughter too. I felt myself go red with the effort of not laughing. He looked so uncomfortable with the closeness of Regina’s head to his and I put my hand over my mouth to cover the little squeak I made as I felt a fit of laughter coming on.
Mulciber had told me the other night that he fancied Regina and made the resolution to shower at least once a day and pay more attention to self-hygiene.
Regina, who straightened up after a minute, was still oblivious to Mulciber’s discomfort and giggling uncontrollably. I saw a very different side of Regina then. It was rare to see her giggling so girlishly and it made the hair crawl across the back of my neck. She said, ‘You know that- girl in our Potions class?’ stopping to gasp in the middle of the sentence. ‘Alice- Gandor or something?’
‘No, I don’t know who you’re talking about,’ I said and I honestly didn’t.
‘She’s a Gryffindor,’ Archemus said, pushing himself up so that he was kneeling. He looked very interested in this. ‘She’s always messing stuff up, you know? Her potions are always wrong.’
Ah, now I could picture her. I saw her in my mind as she tried to mop up her bottles of dragon blood she had dropped a few days earlier. She was short and pudgy with dark hair and grey eyes. ‘Yes I know her,’ I said uncomfortably. ‘Why? What happened?’
‘Potter and his friends convinced her to drink her forgetfulness potion. They told her that she probably did it so wrong that she would remember everything instead. Turns out she did it so wrong it made her collapse in the middle of the exam,’ Mulciber said, breaking out laughing at the end of the sentence. Personally, I didn’t think that was very funny at all.
‘Why are you laughing? Is she alright?’ I asked, feeling outraged.
‘Oh, don’t be so serious! Laugh for once!” Regina said, condescendingly.
‘I do laugh. This just isn’t funny,’ I told her, pressing my lips together to show my disapproval.
Just then, Potter, Black, Pettigrew and Lupin walked out of the castle, looking ruffled and annoyed. They must have gotten into a world of trouble.
Potter’s eyes found the girls sitting by the lake and his face instantly brightened. He ran a hand through his jet black hair, trying to smooth the natural tousles that made him look like he had just gotten out of bed. He had no such luck. He whispered something to the other boys. Black nodded understandingly and James strutted down towards the lake.
I looked towards Lily and her friends. Jasmine caught sight of Potter and a wide, elegant grin broke across her face like a wave on the shore. She leant over to whisper something in Lily’s ear. Lily froze and looked around. A round of giggles broke out as Potter made his way towards them. Lily rolled her eyes and turned back to the group.
When Potter reached the group, Demitri, Kelly and Jasmine were still whispering excitedly – even though he was in earshot. I rolled my eyes too.
He sat down next to Lily with their knees touching. I bristled uncontrollably. Avery put a restraining hand on my forearm as I made to get up.
‘Leave it, Snape. He’s not doing her any harm.’ And when I didn’t respond he said matter-of-factly, ‘Besides, what would you do about it anyway?’
I shook his hand off but I sat back down anyway.
I don’t know what I would have done to stop Potter but I felt like I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing while my enemy openly flirted with my best friend. Jasmine laughed at everything Potter said and twirled her hair around her finger, blushing every time he even glanced at her.
In any case, after about a minute, Lily became annoyed as she tried to get James to go away. She stood up defiantly, pulling Holly and Kelly with her, arms linked. Jasmine and Demitri groaned and the open slump of their shoulders as they stood up slowly showed their disappointment clearly.
After some complaints and whines from Jasmine that were loud enough to be heard from the Willow Tree under which we sat, the group of girls walked away, Lily stalking off in the lead. Jasmine waved over her shoulder at Potter, but the others just followed Lily around the lake to the other side.
Happiness surged through me as I sat in the shade of the willow tree and the sunlight stretched its long, warm fingers through the gaps in the leaves. I lay down on the cool grass and watched as Black, Lupin and Pettigrew approached Potter who still sat next to the lake. His arrogant shell had cracked and I saw his true self shine through as I watched him sit with his head in his hands by the lake as Black tried to cheer him up.
It was time for our Charms exam now. When the bell rang, James sprung up and strode back up to the castle, his arrogant, old self again.
In the Charms exam, we had to try to make a pineapple dance across our desks. Jasmine had the fruit doing a full, refined tap dance but those of us who passed just made it do an easy jive.
Flitwick assured all of us that none of us had failed and smiled proudly at us… and then he turned and saw Mulciber’s pineapple. It was now just a pile of grey ash on his desk. Mulciber had somehow managed to blow it up. I shook my head at his stupidity and he gave me a funny, almost smug smile which I associated with Regina who by now was in stitches of laughter over the blown up pineapple. When she settled and resurfaced she would try her best not to glance at the pineapple – or Mulciber for that matter – but the pineapple was like a magnet to her gaze and her head would slowly turn to the left as if against her will and she would collapse in giggles again.
The Herbology exam was easy and flew by quickly. It was an exam made up almost completely of plant and plant medicine theory. No practical element was needed.
The end of the term was approaching quickly. As was Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party, the Christmas End of Term Feast and Christmas itself.
We went straight to bed and I was so exhausted from the stress of exams that I fell asleep straight away.
My dreams were full of obscurities and memories of different places. Shadows danced around me as I ran through the Forbidden Forest. The branches reached out with spindly fingers and raked my arms, drawing blood and causing me to grunt in pain. All there was were shadows. Shadows, branches and darkness. All I could do was run. Some force was driving me to keep running through the trees. Fear? Hope? Promise? I ran and I ran, though my muscles screamed in protest and my lungs burned from the cool night air. Always running, never stopping.
There was a terrible scream from behind me and I looked around. The creature from behind the door in the dungeon was behind me, chasing me. It screamed again before I realised that the scream was coming out of my own mouth as I
through the blackness.
I sat up in bed and felt my neck and face frantically . It was sweaty and hot. My head snapped to the side as I heard footsteps and I saw the dormitory door was open permitting light from the staircase leading down to the common room to sit, perched on the edge of my bed. I saw a bare foot disappear through the doorway and around the corner. I jumped out of bed and raced out of the dormitory. Something wasn’t quite right.
Avery stood in the middle of the common room, head lolling thoughtfully on his shoulder, just staring straight ahead at the open entrance to the common room. As I entered, the entrance snapped shut and Avery flinched at the noise but he stayed where he was.
‘What happened? What was that?’ I asked shakily. I raised a quivering hand and placed it on his shoulder comfortingly. He jumped and hurriedly wrenched my hand from his shoulder.
He turned to me, his eyes flashing red and yelled, ‘What do you care? It was nothing! You always have to stick your long nose into other people’s business!’
Terror gripped my throat. What was wrong with him? I tried to breathe steadily. ‘Avery. What’s wrong?’
His eyes flashed again.
‘What’s wrong with your eyes?’ I could barely keep from yelling. ‘Avery!’
He ignored me and stalked up the stairs to enter the dormitory.
I stood for a moment, thinking over what had happened.
I was scared. Avery never acted like that or said anything nasty to me. Something must have given him a scare. I know it gave me one and he was the one who chased it out of our dormitory. But his eyes had flashed red and then there was that vagueness as he stared at the entrance… no… stop thinking the worst about people.
There was a scuffle and someone swore loudly. Then came a yell and the sound of fist connecting with flesh, a loud crack and a thud. I broke into a run as I made my way up the stairs to the dormitory, heart pumping in my chest, my mind racing.
I reached the door and stared in horror at the scene. I leaned against the door frame for a second as I took in what had happened. Infirmos was lying on the floor groaning with blood spilling out of his mouth, his jaw hanging at a strange angle, obviously broken.
Longbottom was sitting up in bed, staring, terrified as Avery stood over Mulciber and kicked him in the head. Mulciber groaned again and Avery made his way over to Longbottom’s bed.
‘What are you looking at? You stupid idiot!’
I raced forward and restrained him just as Regina appeared at my side and yelled, ‘What’s going on?’
I shouted back to her as I clung onto Avery’s shoulders, struggling to be heard over his grunts and yells, ‘I don’t know!’ My earlier thought came back to me as I gripped Avery’s biceps with all my might. I wrenched the words from deep in my gut, ‘It’s like he’s possessed!’
Regina didn’t scoff like I thought she would; she nodded curtly and knelt by Mulciber’s side, taking his hand and stroking his hair gently, repeating over and over again, ‘It’s okay! It’s going to be alright!’
At the word ‘possessed’, Avery went limp and the fight went out of him. He collapsed onto the ground in a heap, his head resting on his outstretched arm. I dragged him to his bed and lay him down just as Professor Slughorn appeared in his usual bed clothes. His eyebrows knitted themselves together as he surveyed the scene.
‘Miss Parkinson! Take Mr Mulciber to the hospital wing – quick-smart! Longbottom! Help her carry him!’
Professor Slughorn entered the room and came to my side where I stood, frowning down at Avery’s limp form on the bed.
I told him how I had woken from a dream to someone rushing out of the dormitory and Avery following it. I told him everything, including my theory.
As I explained how I thought maybe whatever had been in our dormitory had possessed Avery, Slughorn nodded thoughtfully and then told me that he didn’t think it was a whatever, but a ‘whoever’. This made my skin crawl.
I went back to bed but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this whole problem had gotten darker. It was the start of something new, the start of something bigger, something… dark. This was the straw that I was looking for, the needle in the haystack, the event that shed light on how dangerous Voldermort really was and how he was only going to get worse.
After breakfast the next morning, I found my way to Dumbledore’s office. A stone gargoyle stood at the entrance. It said, ‘Password.’
I had no idea what the password could be. I glanced around the corridor to see if there was anyone in sight but the halls were empty. After a few seconds of standing lamely in the middle of the corridor, I heard a distant humming and slow footsteps coming from around the corner to my right.
I turned to face the noise just as Dumbledore strolled around the corner. He showed no sign of surprise to see me standing outside his office. In fact, he looked as if he had been expecting me.
‘Hello, Severus! What can I do for you on this fine morning?’ he said cheerfully.
‘I was hoping to talk to you about last night, Professor. I have a- a theory. I- uh- um…’ I lost my nerve. Why was I even here? I had no right to tell the greatest wizard who ever lived my theories. ‘I- never mind! Goodbye Professor!’ I set off down the corridor as fast as I could without breaking into a run.
I slowed to a stop and turned around painstakingly slowly to face Dumbledore. He stood with his hands dangling at his sides, looking at me with an expression of polite curiosity.
‘Would you care to step inside my office? I would love to hear your theory about what happened to Mr Avery last night. Come on, let’s go inside shall we?’
I walked back slowly, regretting my actions entirely. Ugh. I wished I hadn’t come.
‘Come inside! Don’t be shy!’ Dumbledore stood in front of the huge stone gargoyle and said, ‘Cauldron Cakes!’ I barely held in a laugh. A tiny breath of air escaped my tightly pressed lips and Dumbledore’s head snapped around as though he could sense my amusement. He smiled and there was something about it that suggested it was genuine.
The gargoyle leapt aside and the wall split in two, revealing a spiral staircase that looked awfully tiring to climb. Part of me wondered how Dumbledore managed it at his age. I could feel his piercing blue gaze on my back and my stomach flipped as I had a thought.
What if he can read my mind?
I hastily cleared my head like mother had taught me and stepped onto the first stair. Dumbledore stepped on behind me and the staircase started to move. It spiralled upwards very slowly. I tipped my head back and admired the ceiling of the chamber as we moved.
The floral patterns were set in gold on a pale cream background. I stared at the flowers on the end of stems that spiralled, just like the staircase, around themselves and each other until they blurred together to create one big Hydrangea pattern.
We reached the top and we stepped inside Dumbledore’s office. The high-ceilinged circular room was magnificent. Tables were strewn around the room, draped with midnight blue. Even the carpet was as dark as night with life-like stars shining up at me. I almost expected them to burn the bottoms of my trousers that were three sizes too big and covered my shoes. Various silver instruments sat on the tables and I wondered what they were. I had never seen anything like them.
The room was filled with a soft shuffling that was coming from a small, square box that was walking around on a table to my right. As I watched, transfixed by its strangeness, it shuffled to the edge of the table and scuttled right off the edge. It hit the ground with a loud crash and pieces of silver china flew all over the floor. I flinched. Straight away, it flew back into the air, mended itself and placed itself softly back onto the table where it continued to do laps.
Realising that I was frozen in the doorway with my mouth hanging open, I promptly collected myself and walked slowly into the room. Dumbledore strode past me. He lowered himself into the high-backed chair behind his desk and I stood awkwardly in the middle of the room until he gestured to one of the seats on the other side of his desk. When I was seated, he fixed me with his blue-eyed stare over the top of his pressed-together fingertips. I felt like I was being X-rayed. The only sound in the room was the banging of one of the instruments and the occasional crash that came when the strange box fell off the table. I thought he was waiting for me to say something so I stuttered, ‘I- we- um- I- I have a theory,’ I said stupidly, ‘and I don’t… know why I’m here telling you. It’s probably rubbish.’
I felt infinitely stupid, like I was being made fun of already. Dumbledore didn’t answer, he just stared at me as if willing me to continue and showing me without words that he was completely serious about this. ‘Go on.’
I think Archemus has been possessed by Volde – um – I mean You Know Who.’
Unlike the others, Dumbledore did not flinch at the name. He remained silent, so I continued. ‘Uh – he’s acting really… strange and – um…’
‘You think You Know Who was here in the castle? Here personally?’
‘No, I –’ I stuttered. The longer this went on, the worse I felt. ‘Not him personally… ugh I don’t know. It’s a stupid theory.’
Dumbledore laughed. ‘Oh goodness Severus! No no no. Your theory is most probably correct. While I cannot fathom Voldemort entering the castle personally, I do believe he is behind this unusual turn of events.’
‘But – what? You think I could be right?’
‘That is correct,’Dumbledore said. ‘Mr Avery is showing all of the signs of being possessed by something dark. Honestly, boy. You could have my job.’ He beamed at me.
‘Uh – it’s probably not my place to ask but… what do we do now?’
‘Ah, alas, we have come to the point at which even I am stuck. What do you think we should do about it?’
I thought for a moment. And then it came to me.
‘You Know Who wants to know about that thing behind the dungeon door doesn’t he?’
Dumbledore was silent.
‘I knew this was bigger than Avery! What would You Know Who want with Avery, a first year, if he didn’t already have a plan?’ I was forgetting myself. Remember who you are talking to, Severus.
‘Yes.’ Is all he said, still gazing at me through his half-moon spectacles.
‘To fix Avery, all we need to do is to –’
Dumbledore held up his hand for silence. ‘And that is where we come to the dead end… or rather… a cross-road.’ When I simply stared at him, feeling very confused, he said, ‘Voldemort needs to know what’s behind the door, so he has possessed Archemus Avery in the hope that he will show him what is behind the door in the dungeon corridor. So, if we think logically, if we go and look into the dungeon corridor with Mr Avery by our sides, Voldemort will see it and withdraw himself from Archemus’ body.’
‘So,’ he laughed a short laugh. Ha. ‘We can’t do that.’
‘Why not?’ I frowned.
‘If we showed Voldemort what’s behind the door, he will have information that we cannot afford to give him.’
I felt my shoulders droop. ‘Like what?’
I felt like I was pushing my luck but Dumbledore just sighed, ‘Like where his missing Death Eater is.’
That’s a Death Eater?
‘So what’s our other option?’ I asked, feeling hollow inside.
‘There are two actually. The first one is that we let Avery be and hope that he doesn’t set the creature free so it can go running to Voldemort.’ I frowned and shook my head frantically. He smiled. ‘Haha! That’s exactly what I thought of the idea! The second option is to keep Avery locked up until Voldemort believes him to be useless.’
I was horrified. How could Dumbledore even think of doing such a thing? It’s not your place. ‘Professor?’
‘Why did you tell me all of this?’
‘Often, the youngest, most ignorant minds are the most valuable. And my mind is neither young, nor ignorant. This crossroad at which we have arrived is not simple. And right now, I am trying to decide which road to take. I could use some help.’ He suddenly looked old and tired, and there was an unfamiliar droop to his eyes as he addressed me again. ‘Don’t do anything without my consent, will you?’