How long had they put the Cruciatus on him this time before he finally passed out and could no longer be revived, he wondered? Although he always knew where the sun was, it was hard to mark the passage of time when he spent so much of it drugged or unconscious or writhing under a Cruciatus Curse.
"You finally awake over there, you old snake?" came a nearby surly voice from the darkness.
Snape turned his head and strained his eyes in a futile attempt to make out the owner of the voice, but it was useless. Even his sensitive dhampire eyes could not penetrate the total absence of light in the dungeon, but he could make out a vague infrared outline of a stocky wizard in a corner opposite him. "Mad-Eye Moody?" Snape asked hoarsely, and was surprised at the sound of his own voice. He'd been doing a lot of screaming before they put him here, wherever here was. That much he remembered.
"You don't sound too good, Snape. They told me you'd be joining the party sometime soon, but I didn't believe it," came the reply. "What did you do to get yourself thrown in here with the likes of me, eh?"
"Oh, shut up, Moody. You are about the last person I would have preferred for a cellmate. I guess this is part of my torture. Very creative of them. They have my sincere and grudging admiration. I might even give them a point for this one."
"Seriously, Snape, I'm in here for snuffing Death Eaters, scum like you. Why on earth are you here?"
"The same reason. I killed ten of them on the way here. Bit another one, but I am not sure if that counts. He is still alive...after a fashion. How many did you kill?"
Moody whistled through dry lips. It sounded very much like the sort of noises Peeves used to make to scare the first-years. "That's pretty good. Counting the one who will have to learn to like being a vampire real soon, I think that ties my record, unless you're just conjuring smoke screens as usual."
"You are not the only wizard who knows how to wield a wand, Moody."
"Always suspected you would’ve made a fine Auror, you would have, if you hadn’t had such a vicious temper and an attitude problem bigger than Gaba Maal. So what happened, eh? You get into it with them over some girl? You always were a sucker for a pretty face."
"There wasn’t any girl!"
"Sure. What was her name?"
"Curse you, Moody. If I had my wand I would be upping my body count right now."
There was the sound of dry laughter and then, "Come on, Snape, we're both condemned goblins and we both know it. You might as well tell me."
"This is far more serious than a pretty face, you dunderhead!"
"Sure, Snape, sure. It was that new teacher at Hogwarts, wasn't it? I heard 'em talking about her before they chained you up in here, you know."
"SHUT UP MOODY! I hope they kill you first. I'm going to enjoy it."
"Nah, I rather think they'll kill you first. I'm too mean to die, and you're just begging for it."
There was a pause, a moment's truce, then Snape said, "I switched sides, Moody, a long time ago. I told you, and Dumbledore told you, but you never believed it. Perhaps you will believe it now."
Moody grunted in the darkness, and then said, "Assuming you are telling me the truth and that you have been working for Dumbledore all this time, what happened? How did they find out? Why did Dumbledore send Sirius after you, and why did you end up here?"
"I have been walking an increasingly thin tightrope over the last year—no, the last twenty years. It finally snapped, okay?"
"And the girl?" Moody prodded.
Snape sighed. "The girl must learn some very hard lessons very quickly as we once did, Moody. Or she will not live to see the end of this war."
There was a rattle of a key in a lock, and the sound of a bolt being turned, then the whisper of a magical password of some sort, then a large door opened and a shaft of light speared the darkness. Snape closed his eyes as the light was almost blinding, now that he had become accustomed to its absence.
Mulciber, Crabbe and Goyle, and a couple of Death Eaters whose voices Snape did not recognize entered the cell and strode quickly over to Moody. They began unlocking the shackles and applying magical restraints in their place while Moody assailed them with various colorful and creative taunts and insults until they finally silenced him with a harsh, "Tace! Comprimere!" They frog-marched the now silent Moody out of the cell, while Snape could only listen and wonder whether or not Moody would ever come back and whether or not they would come for him next…
“…So I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner, but you can understand why. Things have been rather chaotic here since the attack,” said a thirtyish man whose head and shoulders occupied the fireplace in Dumbledore’s office. He had light hair and a thin, aristocratic face.
“Yes, Leslie,” Dumbledore said calmly. “I understand perfectly. So how are repairs going?”
“Slowly,” Leslie Marmion replied. “But we are making considerable progress. Also, I’ve been asked to pass along the news that the Italian Federation of Wizards is preparing to retaliate against our attackers, and that we are willing to ally with you.”
“That is reassuring,” Dumbledore said, his tone not changing.
“Well, I must leave,” Marmion said briskly. “I have much to do. But I will be in contact with you again, as soon as I am able.”
“Very good,” Dumbledore said. “I wish you well, then.”
Marmion popped out of sight, and seconds later Dumbledore heard a firm knocking on the door.
“Enter,” Dumbledore called wearily.
McGonagall strode in.
“Albus, who were you speaking with just now?” she queried.
“Leslie Marmion,” Dumbledore replied tersely.
McGonagall arched her eyebrows. “Marmion? So, he’s finally decided to contact us at last! So what did he have to say?”
“Nothing that I would trust,” Dumbledore replied tersely, and he handed the deputy headmistress the letter clutched in his hand. “I received it very early this morning.”
McGonagall read the note and paled.
“Merlin’s beard!” she whispered in horror as she fell into a chair. “But why? Why would he turn against us?”
“Why indeed,” Dumbledore echoed thoughtfully as he idly stroked his beard.
“And now they know a great deal about our international network!” McGonagall continued. “This is awful. I never would have dared to think that, but…” She was unable to continue.
“Our network has been badly compromised,” Dumbledore observed bitterly. “Severus was right when he warned me that he knew too much, that I had entrusted too much information to him, that he could become a serious liability if he were ever captured and questioned. At the time, I only wished to demonstrate to him that I trusted him implicitly. And for certain…situations, he was the only trustworthy person I could send.”
“And if you had kept anything important from him, he would have been angry about it; never mind what he said about knowing too much.”
Dumbledore sighed heavily. “Nevertheless, there are some things he has not been told, things I have had to keep from him in case his true loyalties should be discovered. This development is grave, but not entirely unforeseen. All is not lost.”
“Albus, I get the distinct impression from the fragments of information in Mr. Potter’s letter that Severus was either unable or unwilling to self-Obliviate before he left.”
“Memory blocks can and have been broken with enough skill and ruthlessness, both of which Voldemort has in ample amounts, alas. But I agree with your assessment, and I think I know why. Memory alteration is a frightening and dangerous prospect, akin to losing part or all of one’s identity. Severus never told me in so many words, but I am sure the possibility of losing himself frightened him as much or more than the possibility of discovery and execution.”
“He knew the price he might have to pay for spying on…on Voldemort’s inner circle,” the elderly witch said, stumbling slightly over the name all wizards feared to speak. “I thought that he was prepared…”
“To sacrifice himself…or at least a vital part of himself? Yes, I think so. But that is not what kept him from attempting to erase his memories. There was something he could not risk erasing, something he could not bear to lose.”
McGonagall’s eyes met the headmaster’s. “Aurellia…” she whispered, suddenly understanding. “He placed her memory over the integrity of the Order of the Phoenix and the Alliance of Light. He betrayed us…”
“No,” Dumbledore said softly, but firmly. “I think, perhaps his heart betrayed him. But remember we are only making assumptions…”
“I don’t blame him, Albus,” the deputy headmistress mused sadly. “It would be easy to do just that, but I cannot say with any degree of certainty or honesty how I would have reacted in similar circumstances.”
The fireplace crackled in the regret-laden silence that followed. Dumbledore carefully folded Harry’s letter into thirds, then tossed it into the fireplace, having committed its contents to memory.
“As I said earlier, this is a serious, if not entirely unexpected development. We are compromised, and only time will tell how badly. Minerva, I need for you to get word to Remus and Mundy. Send a fire parchment, and mark it emergency. Tell them to get the word out about Marmion, and tell them to be doubly on their guard. There’s no telling when Voldemort may act on the information he’s already gleaned from Severus, but I expect it will be soon. I’ll contact Sirius, Hyran, Cobb, and a few others, and oh, yes, if you could send one of the house-elves up in about two hours or so, it looks like I’m going to be working through lunch.”
“Yes, Headmaster,” McGonagall replied. “But before I go, there is another matter we need to discuss, the reason why I came up here in the first place, in fact. It’s about Aurellia.”
“What’s happened?” Dumbledore queried, his brow furrowing with worry. “I haven’t had a chance to really sit down and talk with her since the logic and Potions workshop, but I know she’s not doing well.”
“That is an understatement! She’s not…how shall I put this? She’s barely functioning anymore. She rarely comes to the Great Hall for meals, and the house-elves say that she never asks them for any deliveries to her office. The students have been talking about her in the corridors, and it’s very hard not to notice that her mind often seems somewhere else. She’s distracted in her classes, losing her train of thought and repeating herself. Her desk is disorderly. And a few students from Hufflepuff have even complained to me that she’s very harsh and critical when they fail to measure up to her expectations during the lessons.”
McGonagall sighed. “There’s more, much more, but it’s mostly along the same lines. Albus, she’s losing her effectiveness as an instructor, and you know that I do not say that lightly. Even during the so-called ‘Grudge Match’, she was able to keep the students under control and interested in the lessons. Now I hear that she’s so critical and demanding that some of the students have given up on learning from her classes altogether, and the Slytherins have taken to causing disruptions, or at least not participating. And to make matters worse, more often than not, she’s not doing anything about it!”
“You aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know,” Dumbledore said, and he removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll try to talk to her this afternoon or evening. Perhaps if she can vent her grief on a sympathetic ear, she will begin to be able to work through it.”
“Oh, there’s one other thing I nearly forgot to mention. Did you know about Venator?” McGonagall asked, and she crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Venator? Severus’ owl?” The headmaster replaced his glasses and looked at the witch with a worried expression. “No, other than that Hagrid is taking care of him now, I haven’t heard anything new.”
“Well he’s flown the coop,” McGonagall replied. “I went to…to…wellll…see the old buzzard…” Here she flushed and looked away. “But Hagrid told me that when Aurellia had stopped in to visit earlier this week, she had mainly ignored him and started speaking a stream of elvish to the bird instead. Something she said caused the owl to act very strangely, and in the end, he flew away, looking for all the world as if he would never return. Hagrid thinks that either she told him his master is dead and set him free, or more likely that she sent him to search for Severus.”
Dumbledore’s jaw dropped. “She did this? Without first consulting myself or Hagrid?”
McGonagall nodded, and Dumbledore placed a hand on his forehead. “I do not think that Venator went willingly. Sometimes familiars will try to return to their masters if they are separated by misfortune, particularly if the bond between them is very strong. But Severus has only had Venator since Christmas.” He thought a moment. “Only about three months, and I don’t gather that there was much fondness in that relationship…”
“That’s an understatement! Foul-tempered old buzzard of an owl…”
“So you suspect as I do, that she might have compelled him to leave, even against his will?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s a desperate quality to all of her activities of late. What are we going to do?” McGonagall asked softly.
“This is disturbing, that Aurellia would act against principle,” Dumbledore said with a sigh. “I will try to talk to her this afternoon, Minerva…but only if she is willing. I would not go so far as to compel her against her will…”
Jaspine tried to ignore the smirks and jeers that followed her as she entered the Potions classroom, and she proceeded to unload her materials in her usual efficient manner. On one hand, she was grateful to be back in her favorite class, which had been cancelled for nearly three weeks. But on the other hand, there was the increasing animosity she had to put up with from her fellow Slytherins.
“Hey, psycho!” called Geoff Hanes, and several other students cackled. “Think you’ll be teacher’s pet with the new bloke?”
The Slytherin girl flushed, but she decided not to take the bait. Jaspine concentrated on making certain her cauldron and test tubes were spotless.
“Greggs,” Nadine Callenbe said cattily. “Now that we are taking Potions again, are you going to make an Invisibility potion for yourself so we don’t have to see your ugly mug?” The other Slytherin girls hooted and snickered.
Jaspine’s mouth narrowed as she concentrated on polishing the rim of her cauldron with her sleeve.
“I’ve got a message for you, Greggs,” Hanes called again. “From Draco Malfoy. He says if you ever threaten him again, the consequences…”
This was too much. Jaspine whirled in her seat and stood up to stare down at the narrow-faced, ratty-looking Hanes. The other students tittered as she walked slowly over to his workstation. Hanes swallowed nervously, but the rodent-like smile never left his face.
“If the Ferret Face has a message for me,” Jaspine said coldly, “tell him to deliver it himself. In person. If he’s not too chicken.”
“Are you calling my friend a coward?” Hanes questioned nastily. “You’ll be sorry when I tell him what you said about him!”
“You tell Malfoy if he wants to talk, we’ll talk. I don’t speak through toadies,” Jaspine hissed. “What I want to know is why you are suddenly so chummy with Ferret Boy? You’re not the best and brightest in the Wizarding world, but I thought you were above associating with his sort. I guess I overestimated you.”
“Face it, Greggs,” chimed in Bianca Avery, and she tossed her curly black hair. “Anyone with any brains knows who they should be loyal to. If they want to go places when they graduate, that is.”
“If you don’t wise up and change your ways, you are going to find yourself out on the street with the Squibs,” Callenbe added acidly. “You and that Hufflepuff family of yours.” The other students cackled loudly.
“I would rather live in a sewer than grovel before that filthy, slimy, arrogant…” Jaspine hissed, and her hands balled into fists. But another voice from the front of the classroom cut off the rest of the insults she’d intended to spew.
“Sit down,” ordered the tall wizard in blood-red robes as he took his place at the front of the classroom. “I will tolerate no disruptions in my class!”
Jaspine reluctantly returned to her seat with a muttered, “Sorry, sir.”
“Well, is everyone prepared to begin the lesson?” the new instructor asked with a frown. “Or must we waste more precious class time getting materials out?” He fixed Jaspine with a glacial look. The tall Slytherin girl merely arched her eyebrows and returned the glare with a cool look of her own as she sat at her desk, her cauldron, test tubes, supplies and books neatly arranged. Around her, Jaspine could hear the shuffling of book bags as several of the others retrieved their own books and supplies, and she permitted herself a small smirk of satisfaction. Jaspine glanced at the hourglass and noted that their new professor had been about 5 minutes late, but decided it wouldn’t be wise to acknowledge this.
“I realize that you have had a month’s hiatus from this class, and that you have suffered a grave loss recently. Professor Snape, I have been informed, was the Head of your House as well as your Potions instructor,” the white-haired wizard said, looking not the least bit sympathetic. “However, it is time to get back to business, to put personal concerns behind you, and that means coming to class prepared!” he continued, looking down his nose at the class. “I am Igor Karkaroff, your new Potions instructor. You will find that your lives and your grades will be made easier and will benefit in direct proportion to your obedience to my instructions. You, girl!” He called out suddenly to a petite Slytherin at the table to the left of Jaspine. “Go fetch me that blue-bound book with gold-leaf, over on the shelf there, the third one.”
The Slytherin, Priscilla Mandaly, snorted in disgust but left her seat to retrieve the book. Jaspine stared in disbelief at the new Potions instructor, and she could hear a low buzz around the classroom as Karkaroff took the book and started flipping through the pages searching for something.
Their grades would be assigned at the whims of this…this dictator? In accordance with their obedience, not the quality of their work? Snape may have shown partiality, but at least he based grades on measurable results!
This was absolutely…this was just plain…unbelievably…intolerable! This was…
Jaspine closed her eyes in despair.
“Ah, here we go,” Karkaroff said in satisfaction as he jabbed a finger at one of the pages. “Today, class, we will be going over how to make Occulanacht, a vision-enhancing potion.”
The buzzing in the classroom grew louder.
“Sir,” Nathan Quinn spoke up tentatively. His round face reflected his puzzlement. “We already covered that potion. Before the holidays.”
“Well, then this will be a refresher, and everyone should get top marks, correct?” Karkaroff replied with a hasty look around the classroom. He licked his upper lip. “Well, then. Let’s get started. You, boy, and you.” He pointed imperiously at Quinn and Hanes. “Come up here, grab one of those cauldrons and set it up, and then find the ingredients needed for this potion.”
Quinn and Hanes exchanged disbelieving looks but reluctantly went to the front of the classroom. Jaspine pursed her mouth in disgust, and she could hear several whispers of outrage throughout the room.
He doesn’t know what he is doing, and he’s trying to cover for it by getting the students to do the work!
“Let’s see here,” Karkaroff said as he read the list of potions ingredients. “We need wolf’s blood, an owl feather for each student, belladonna seeds, shredded Mandrake root, now that’s strange; this list should have powdered dragon scales…”
A hush fell over the classroom as the students looked at each other nervously.
“Sir,” Jaspine spoke up. “You don’t use powdered dragon scales with Occulanacht. It would react badly with the wolf’s blood and belladonna seed. You use…”
“Who is teaching this class,” Karkaroff thundered. “Me or you?”
Several students tittered, but it was an uneasy sound. Sure, Jaspine needed to be taken down a peg or two, most thought, but Karkaroff was making a mistake here. Jaspine was right.
Jaspine flushed but continued. “You can use dragon dust or powdered dragon horn in place of Runespoor scales if you add Benedict root for a Hidden Eye potion, but that’s a different…”
“Are you trying to be clever, girl?” Karkaroff hissed as he walked over to Jaspine’s desk and looked down at her threateningly.
“I’m trying to keep the Potions classroom from becoming the scene of a disaster,” Jaspine retorted, unable to hold her tongue. “And that is precisely what will happen if…”
“One more word out of you and I will give you detention!” the new professor roared. “I’ve made this potion many times, and I’ve always used dragon scales! Now the last time I checked the faculty list, my name was on it, not yours, so do as you are told and do not give me any more lip! You two!” He turned and barked at Quinn and Hanes. “Hurry up there! We haven’t got all day!”
Jaspine heard several students shuffle nervously in their seats, and more than a few pairs of eyes flicked towards the exit as Quinn and Hanes finished igniting a fire under the cauldron and lined up the asked-for ingredients on a table near Karkaroff. While the teacher eyed the students’ preparations, the tall Slytherin girl stealthily drew her wand and concentrated. “Accio!” A large jar of powdered fluxweed flew off the shelf behind Karkaroff and sailed low through the air into Jaspine’s hand.
“First, you add the wolf’s blood and belladonna seed,” Karkaroff said in a superior tone as he added a large quantity of both into the small cauldron. The contents in the cauldron started to bubble up.
Jaspine stifled a groan and Summoned another jar of powdered fluxweed, and then flobberworm mucus to her desk for good measure. The potion was already beginning to look ugly as he added…three owl feathers? She stared at the potions instructor in disbelief. Was he deliberately trying to blow up the school?
“Note how I slowly pour the powdered dragon scales into the cauldron,” Karkaroff continued, either completely unaware of the foul odor emanating from the cauldron or choosing to ignore it. “I say! Everyone back into your seats immediately! I never gave you permission to leave!”
All of the students save Jaspine, who was busy unscrewing the lids of the fluxweed and flobberworm mucus jars, halted in their tracks, but did not return to their seats. They watched in growing alarm as the cauldron behind Karkaroff began to bubble a sinister green, then catch fire…
“I ordered you to return to your seats!” Karkaroff barked. “I will not ask again! Now…”
BOOM! The cauldron rocked and a six-foot geyser of orange flame erupted from the top. The students by the door let out a collective scream and ran out the door, and the students who had been brave enough to stay at their desks followed them. Jaspine ran up to the cauldron and hurled the contents of the jars inside, choking on the fumes and gasping as some of the botched potion splashed up and hit her in the hands, face and chest. But with the liberal dose of powdered fluxweed and flobberworm mucous, the flames started to go down and the potion cooled quickly into a brownish, lumpy mess.
“Foolish girl!” Karkaroff spat in fury. “Look at this disaster! Look what you have done!”
“What she has done,” called another voice from the doorway, “is to prevent this room from becoming a charred hole and has saved your wor…has possibly saved your life.”
McGonagall strode into the room and took note of the black marks on the ceiling, the brown, solidifying goo on the floor, and the charred cauldron. “I think you owe Miss Greggs your gratitude?”
The cauldron suddenly cracked into several pieces and collapsed in a heap of twisted, blackened metal, over which oozed the ugly results of Karkaroff’s mistake like rancid gravy.
“I am no Potions expert by any stretch of the imagination,” McGonagall continued coldly. “But even I know better than to add powdered dragon scales to any potion with wolf’s blood. So did the rest of your class, from the way they were running out into the corridor.”
“They overreacted. Everything is under control here,” Karkaroff said with a scowl.
“I see,” McGonagall observed tartly, peering intently at the ruined potion and cauldron. “No small thanks to Miss Greggs.”
“Clean up this mess,” Karkaroff snapped nastily at Jaspine, who turned scarlet with anger, but reluctantly drew her wand and approached said mess.
“She will do no such thing!” McGonagall said sharply, and she put a restraining hand on the tall Slytherin’s shoulder. Jaspine stopped in her tracks feeling rather like the object of a brewing catfight. “She is going to the medical wing! Miss Greggs has been badly burned, or haven’t you noticed? Don’t you have any murtlap ointment on hand for emergencies?”
“I’m fine, professor,” Jaspine interrupted hastily. “Really, I’ll be fine…” All she wanted at this point was to leave and never come back. Karkaroff’s insensitive, incompetent oppression was bad enough, but having McGonagall defend her? That was just intolerable!
Karkaroff’s scowl deepened and he pushed past Jaspine and started jabbing his wand at the ground. “Evanesco!” Slowly, the brown goo dissolved and disappeared.
Well at least he knew which end of a wand to use. At least he wasn’t another Lockhart, Jaspine reflected. Not that that was much consolation.
“Nonsense,” McGonagall said crisply. “You will go straight to Madam Pomfrey. And while you are up there, if you would be so kind to let her know that Professor Karkaroff needs burn ointment and other general-purpose antidotes, since he obviously doesn’t have anything on hand.”
Jaspine made a hasty retreat, leaving the professors to argue anew in her absence.
What are we going to do? she thought bleakly. Obviously, this new Potions teacher didn’t know what he was doing, and she knew from the string of poor Defense teachers the school had had in recent years, how quickly students could fall behind in a subject without a good teacher. Two tears trickled down Jaspine’s face, and the salty drops stung her burned cheeks.
And whose fault was it that Hogwarts no longer had a competent Potions Master?
On the way to the infirmary, Jaspine glanced into a mirror in the hallway and studied her reflection. Her hair was frazzled; her face was streaked with tears, ash, and several angry-looking burn marks. And now, her injuries were really starting to smart.
“You’re a mess, girl,” Jaspine’s reflection said, as it shook its head.
“Yeah, I am,” the Slytherin agreed reluctantly with a rueful nod as she walked away from the mirror.
About five weeks had passed since Snape's disappearance, and Hogwarts seemed to be slowly dragging itself back toward some semblance of normalcy. Students were beginning to talk about something besides Snape's disappearance, Deveroux's grieving, and the recent activities of the "Neo-Death Eaters." And there was even some renewed interest in the House Cup, though not as it had been in the days before the mort-de-kai.
Unfortunately, while everyone else seemed to be carrying on with their lives for the most part, Aurellia Deveroux just seemed to slip further and further into despair with every passing day. It was the little house-elf, Winky, who finally went to Professor Sprout with the news that all of Aurellia's flowers and house plants seemed desperately in need of her expertise...and perhaps Miss Deveroux herself, as well.
Consequently, Professor Hyacinth Sprout found herself leaving the greenhouse immediately after her last class on a late Thursday afternoon in April, and making the short walk to the main building and Aurellia Deveroux's office. She knew that Deveroux was free this afternoon and would probably be holed up in her office, crying and listening to Muggle music as she graded papers, or perhaps just plain crying. It was getting to be a very worrisome habit, especially when Aurellia had refused to talk to Hagrid, McGonagall, Flitwick, and even Dumbledore about it.
So, now it's my turn, thought Sprout, as she listened to the mingled sounds of crying and Duran Duran lyrics emanating from the direction of Deveroux's closed office door.
Passion or coincidence once prompted you to say
Pride will tear us both apart
Well now, pride’s gone out the window
‘Cross the rooftops, run away...
Oh dear, thought Sprout, listening to the words. This isn't going to be easy! She tapped quietly on the door and waited.
But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world
Somehow, I have to find...
"Go away Professor Dumbledore. I don't want to talk to you right now," came the testy reply.
"It's me, dear. Hyacinth Sprout," the Herbology teacher called softly. "I've only come to see about your flowers. Winky told me you were having a bit of trouble with them again."
"Oh, yes, of course," came Aurellia's listless voice, as the music suddenly stopped. "I'd forgotten about that. Yes, come in."
The door opened with a nudge from Aurellia's wand and a silent mental command, and Sprout walked in to find the usually neat and orderly office in a state of disarray. The lilacs, impatiens, even Deveroux's favorite tea roses were dropped over. Withered brown and yellow leaves were scattered all over the stone floor. Even the Flytrap, which did best with little water, looked like it was choking from dehydration.
But even more disturbing was Deveroux's appearance. She looked worse than her flowers. The petite teacher had grown thin and pale, her hair dull and flyaway, her usually neat dress and robes rumpled. She was in as desperate need of care as the flowers. The Defense teacher was leaning on one of her bookshelves, her eyes closed.
"Oh, my!" Sprout exclaimed in dismay. "I think I know what's wrong with them already! You've not been watering them. Miss Deveroux, you cannot expect your flowers to live and thrive if you neglect them like this."
"I'm sorry, Hyacinth. I've been a little…preoccupied. And they just don't seem to matter much anymore."
"Not matter anymore!" Sprout said, aghast. "But you were always so fond of flowers. I remember a time when you were threatening Professor Snape with bodily harm for killing them, until you found out that it was the Weasleys who were guilty of the crime."
Aurellia's face caved in, and she burst into tears again at the reminder.
"What is it, love? What's the matter?" Sprout asked softly. "Are you still so upset about what happened to Professor Snape?"
"No comment," Aurellia replied shakily.
The Herbology teacher looked around again and her heart sank further as she noted that the once neat and orderly office was beginning to show the same evidence of neglect as the flowers. Papers were scattered on the usually organized Defense teacher's desk, the shelves were dusty, and the fireplace needed tended. The Shimmer Lamps that should have shone brighter than the amber afternoon sunlight trickling in through the mullioned windows glowed feebly instead. One of them was completely dark. So the shimmer colonies, too, had not been watered. Sprout had a sudden chilling thought that if rooms lived, then this one was…dying.
Sprout clucked to herself and made a mental note to send Winky and Dobby over to help straighten things up for Aurellia if she could get the lass to agree to let the helpful little elves in. Perhaps if the room were fixed up, it would cheer Aurellia up.
"There, there," Sprout said kindly, patting Aurellia on the shoulder in a grandmotherly fashion. "You cannot undo what happened to him by letting yourself go and wallowing in misery."
"But you don't understand," the elf protested. "It's my fault! I killed him! I killed him with my words!"
"Oh," Sprout said, suddenly understanding. "He wasn't just patrolling, was he? You two had a falling out of some sort, and he was letting off some steam. Ah, Dearie, you should have shared that with the rest of us! No wonder you've been moping around so much these last few weeks!"
Aurellia looked at the Herbology teacher through tear-filled eyes and said, "I think…I think I loved him, Hyacinth. But I didn't know how to tell him that. And now it's too late!" She burst into tears again, and Sprout handed the elf her handkerchief and guided her to the couch.
"Now, now, don't go blaming yourself for Snape's recklessness. He's always been a bit of a powder keg looking for a fire wand. I think that something like this was bound to happen sooner or later."
Aurellia shouted hotly, "But why did I have to be the fire wand?" Then she sobbed uncontrollably.
Sprout started to cry too, and since she'd given her hanky to Aurellia, she wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her robe. No matter, it would wash out.
"I'm so sorry, love," Sprout comforted. "I wish I knew what to say to you, but I don't think I could ever find the words. Not if I had a hundred years."
After a few moments, Aurellia calmed down a little and said shakily, "Hyacinth, there were several times when I was in high school and college, when I thought that I was in love. I really, truly did. But time and circumstances always proved otherwise. Those Prince Charmings always seemed to turn back into toads when the enchantment wore off. I had just about given up on love altogether. I thought it was just leprechaun gold. And then along came this annoying, vindictive, contrary, mean-spirited, arrogant, anti-social, troll-headed fool of a wizard, and I thought oh, no, not again! I am not going to get my heart broken again! But then I started to think that maybe this time it would be different because I never before had a toad turn into a prince charming." She sniffled and laughed, tears leaking out of her eyes as she did so, and Sprout laughed too, with sympathy.
"If Snape were here he'd say something snide right about now like, 'well, there's no accounting for taste, is there?' He was always saying things like that."
Sprout patted Aurellia's hand and said, "Now, Aurellia, if he were here, don't you think he would tell you to cheer up and move on with your life? To get over grieving for him and take care of yourself? He loved you too, dear, and it would upset him to see you acting like this."
"I know," Aurellia said softly. "I know he must have loved me because otherwise what I said to him that night wouldn't have hurt him so badly. I killed him Hyacinth! I broke his heart, and I drove him to his death!" she started sobbing all over again, and Sprout held her and patted her hair.
"Oh, you poor child," Sprout said quietly. "You've such a heavy burden on you. But please, please don't despair. It will get easier. It may take a long time, but you will work through this. You have my shoulder anytime day or night. Just send me an owl, and I'll be here. And Dumbledore will help you as much as he can. He means well even if he doesn't always seem to understand."
And Sprout stayed until Aurellia had finally cried herself out, which took several hours at least. It was late evening by the time she finally headed back to her greenhouse, her heart heavy and her head full of thoughts of Deveroux and Snape, and what could have been. And she thought about poor Aurellia's remark that love was just leprechaun gold.
Then she found herself wishing that she had a shoulder to cry on as well.