(THE THIRTEENTH POTION)
By: Airelle Vilka
Professor of Illusions
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Summary: It is their sixth year at Hogwarts, and Airelle and Snape have taken up their hobby of concocting forbidden potions as usual. But what happens when they accidentally mix potions and discover that their new creation has a rather …interesting... side effect?
BONUS: FIFTY POINTS TO THE HOUSE OF ANYONE who can tell me what the old storekeeper's name means. (Hint: Like all other foreign references in the story, the name comes from Latin. Ah, I do love my scholarly ways. ;-)) This story is long, but it's complete, and I think it's worth reading! hint hint
"Black widow spider legs, one sixth of a kilo, please," said Airelle Vilka hesitantly.
The tall, thin woman behind the counter, who bore a remarkable resemblance to a rabid meerkat, stared at the girl through a pair of thick, opaque spectacles.
"Ze spider legs are to be uzed, dear, by eggzperienzed wizards only," she pronounced in a thick accent that seemed to roll off her tongue and drip on the floor. "And I beg pardon, but you are, vell – letz zee, how shall I put zis – razer tinee."
I'll show you tiny, thought Airelle. I'm sixteen, and I've made potions that could make your hair stand on end—literally.
She smiled adoringly at the woman and held up her Hogwarts prefect's badge. "I am doing a special assignment for Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Surely you know him?"
It was amazing how quickly the latter's expression changed from one of contempt to angelic joy. "Ah, Dummel-dore, zat wonderful man—"
"Yes, well," said Airelle before the woman could go into dissertations on the good qualities of Dumbledore, "he would be very disappointed if one of his two top Potions students would be unable to finish this project if she did not get simple ingredients from…your … store. Which he sent me to, specifically, since he says it is the best in town, of course."
The thin woman flushed visibly, then looked Airelle up and down. "'E does, does 'e? Vell, in zat case, little eggzeptions can be made, it von't 'urt." With a wink that seemed highly uncharacteristic, and to some extent, downright scary, she brandished her wand at one of the cabinets behind her, and bellowed in a voice that could've taught Richard the Lionhearted a thing or two: "ACCIO BLACK WIDOW LEGS!"
The jar came soaring through the air at top speed and landed into the woman's free left hand. After dumping the necessary amount into a bag and measuring it with a magic Weight-Teller (which was not good for personal use, since it tended to explode into hysterical laughter if you stepped on it to weigh yourself), she handed the bag of spider legs to Airelle. The latter counted out the payment money, said "Thank you," and smartly walked outside before the woman could break out into song or do something equally disturbing.
"Spider legs are getting more and more expensive every year," Airelle muttered as she stared forlornly into the diminutive paper bag. "Ten Sickles…it's robbery!"
"Perhaps spiders are out of season, so they're precious commodities," mused Severus Snape, who was at the moment walking right next to her with a giant list of ingredients in his hand, half of them crossed out with a quill.
"Yes," retorted Airelle as the two careened out of the way of a cart full of large, covered cages, "maybe all our spiders have decided to take a collective vacation."
Snape looked sideways at her as if she was out of her mind. "Just focus on the task at hand, please. And at least try to be somewhat pleasant."
"I would be pleasant, if you hadn't dragged me out of bed at six in the morning to go buy potion ingredients, Mr. Congeniality," said Airelle so loudly that she scared a nearby old witch out of her wits. "Come, Snape, it's the last day of Christmas vacation, for Merlin's sake, and you use Floo Powder to enter my fireplace, terrifying my mother half to death— it's NOT funny!"
"Calm down," said Snape, who was attempting to hide a grin, and failing miserably. "I forgot that people do not usually travel by fireplaces at your house. And it is connected to the Floo Network, after all."
"I'm so certain you did. And anyway, you know, there is something called a door," Airelle answered, even though she was now smiling herself at the look her mother had borne at seeing Severus Snape, covered in the soot that her fireplace always had more than an abundance of—Snape was still miffed about that—step into her living room. Most people never thought of Snape as a morning person, probably because the scowl on his face caused nearly everyone to have bad cases of misinterpretation. But Airelle knew that he loved getting up early, a habit that clashed horribly with hers. But in any case, Snape had acquired the skill to avoid Airelle's tendency to sleepily whack anyone who attempted to awaken her before she did it herself. Now, he just used an Alarm Spell that banged at her head until she rose.
Snape ignored Airelle's comment and looked down at his list. "Hmm… spider legs…"-- the quill scratched on the paper as he drew a horizontal line through the words— "…done. Next on the list is ten milliliters of Lobalug poison."
Airelle winced. "Lobalug poison? Great… where are we going to get that? You know the sale of it is strictly controlled."
"We shall have to go to… ah, a more obscure shop, then," said Snape darkly as the two walked in front of Gringotts, the wizard bank. The eyes of the goblin guards followed them warily, which Airelle found very disconcerting--
Suddenly, Snape stopped, putting a hand in front of Airelle to make her do the same.
She stared up at him. "What's wrong?"
"Potter," Snape muttered, expression blossoming into a scowl. Airelle followed his gaze and surely enough, there was James Potter and his band of friends – Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew, walking straight towards them.
Airelle glanced at her friend. "Please, don't get into a fight in the middle of Diagon Alley," she whispered, latching onto his sleeve as if it would hold him. Snape did not look at her, but said quietly, "Don't worry, I'm not that foolish. But I am sure Black will start something…"
Airelle sighed. Wonderful.
James Potter finally spotted the duo when they were not far away from each other. Airelle smiled wanly at him, trying her best not to look at what Snape was doing. But judging by Potter's response, it had not been something complimentary.
"Looking for trouble, are you, Snape?" he said dangerously, his friends all glaring in Airelle's friend's direction in the same way.
"Only as much as you, Potter," replied Snape's voice menacingly, and Airelle had the feeling that if she could reach out, she'd probably be able to grab the threads of tension between the two. This was not a good start to a morning. Somehow, she did not feel like having to pry the two apart in front of Gringotts. Her grip on Snape's sleeve tightened noticeably.
"Looks like your little girlfriend doesn't want you to come closer," piped up Pettigrew from behind Black. "Afraid you'll get hurt."
Airelle, who suddenly felt a wave of anger seep through her, gave the boy a glare that could have fried him. "At least Snape has a girl walking next to him, Pettigrew," she said savagely, "without holding her nose."
Peter blanched, at least for a second. Lupin almost smiled, but did a good job in keeping a straight face. Potter and Black put on defensive expressions. Airelle did not back down. Forgetting about her hold on Snape, she stepped forward, ignoring the people passing by them in waves of heads and wizards' robes. Couldn't people just NOT automatically assume she was Snape's girlfriend for once? Just because Potter and Lily Evans were all over each other, it did not mean everyone else had to be the same way…
Peter said something over the crowd, but Airelle couldn't hear. Mainly because she was abruptly pulled backwards.
"Not today," Snape muttered to her, and Airelle stopped fidgeting. There was an iciness and stiffness in his voice that bothered her just a little. She drew in a slow breath and caught sight of Potter and his friends again.
"Ah, you're not worth it anyway, Snape," growled Black, and he and James Potter made a move away to the side, continuing to their destination. Airelle and Snape held their heads high as they passed, and only resumed walking normally when Potter was out of sight.
Airelle bit her lip and glanced up at her friend. Strangely enough, he was smiling a little.
"Such a pacifist, Airelle," he smirked, and she raised her eyebrows lightly.
"Like you said, Snape," she said, "…let's focus on the list, shall we?"
And she continued walking.
Airelle's mood had improved somewhat by noon, mainly because Snape had not mentioned a word about the Potter incident, and because they had finally managed to get all the ingredients they needed for their potion. Tomorrow, the Hogwarts Express would take them back to school, where the 'borrowed' book from the Restricted Section of the Library, Most Dangerous Potions Known to the Wizarding World, was gratefully and dutifully waiting for them on the table in their little room behind the Potions fireplace. Ah, this was the life.
They had bought lunch in a little shop, and Airelle thought they'd set a record this time—only a few heads had turned towards them. By now, everyone knew that she and Snape frequented places together, and frankly, Airelle did not really care what strangers thought of their relationship and its extent. She'd just gotten tired of it over the years; a sixteen-year-old definitely did not need these types of problems.
She licked her Gadlee's Giggling Ice-Cream and looked around at the store-fronts they were passing. There was Ollivander's wand shop. She still remembered the day she'd received her wand from the old man— a nine-and-a-half-inch wooden stick, made of whispy willow and phoenix feathers, which was rather odd since she was not a Gryffindor. It was good for charming dangerous animals, Ollivander had said with a small smile that day. She had once made a joke of that comment to Snape, wondering aloud if he was one of the "dangerous animals" she'd have to charm. Snape didn't get it. Or if he did, his death glare had meant a wisely kept silence from Airelle. She still laughed about it sometimes. Snape could never scare her too much; she had a feeling there was nothing he could do that would terrify her. Except perhaps wear one of those pink ballerina tutus that she'd seen at Muggle ballet shows. Now a picture of that would be Blackmail Material, Class One.
Airelle grinned and looked at her friend. He was not perusing the list any longer, but thinking; she could tell by the vacant look in his eyes and the indifferent twist of his thin lips. No wonder people were appalled by him at first glance, mused Airelle-- he was not exactly all smiles and merriment. But oh, he was brilliant. When Snape had come into the school, he knew more about Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts than half of the seventh years did. Airelle guessed it came from his family, who were known for their proficiency in the subject. It was Snape who had taught her how to, in his own words, "brew fame, bottle glory, even stopper death," (although the two had not yet succeeded on that last one) and she had learned quickly. As a matter of fact, Airelle by now was his equal in the art of Potion making. One would have to be to keep up with Severus Snape. "Book-swallowing" had become one of Airelle's most frequent activities-- sitting in the library at night and poring over texts from the Restricted Section. What really bothered her was that she did not feel a pang of guilt as she took the books from the shelves. It was not allowed for students to read them without permission-- but she felt like she was responsible for her own fate. And sure enough, there were risks that came with the Restricted Books. At one point, Snape had to clamp the book she was reading shut because it had tried to suck her into its pages. Another one had singed her fingers when she tried to open it; and countless other tales of horror. In truth, Airelle would not recommend her own deeds to anyone. The Restricted Section was indeed dangerous, and good as she was, if Snape were not there with her, there'd be a lot of times when she wasn't good enough…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a blurry inscription that passed them. Or, rather, they passed it. Airelle froze in her tracks, mouth gaping open, and stared at the glass window. Snape followed her gaze and his black eyes roamed over the storefront.
"What is wrong with--oh," he said, finally realizing what he was staring at.
"Would you look at that…" whispered Airelle…
There, in a corner of the display table, lay a moldy-looking old book, with a gilded silver clamp.
"Is that what I think it is?" Airelle murmured. Snape shook his head affirmatively in response as the two walked closer to the glass, not paying attention to the crowds of wizards yelling at them to stop getting in their way.
"I believe so," said Snape, dark eyes mesmerized in a way that only Potions could make them. "I cannot believe it's being sold here."
"I thought that only Alexandria had it…"
"So did I. Looks like they made copies," said Snape, heading towards the door of the shop and Airelle following close behind.
They entered, glancing around into the obscurity, the echoes of the door-bell still ringing in the dusty air.
"I've never been in this store before," Snape confessed. Airelle turned her head from one side to the other, perusing the shelves. They were full of odd ingredients for potions she'd never heard of, probably so old that Merlin had been a babe sucking his finger when they'd been invented. There was no one in sight at the counter; cobwebs hung everywhere, and the whole place looked like a secondhand pawn shop from the Middle Ages. Shivering slightly with anticipation, Airelle crossed over to the window and picked up the book. The cover was pure black, with a writhing silver cobra embossed in the center to match the clamp. And on the top, large faded letters read, Medicamenta Duodecim Vetusta.
"This is right up your alley," she laughed, the comment directed towards Snape, who was still staring warily at the shelves. Finally tearing his eyes away, her friend followed in Airelle's footsteps and took the book from her.
"Twelve Ancient Potions," he read so as to make sure his eyes were not failing him. "A book originating in Egypt, translated into Latin."
"Perhaps this is a Roman copy," murmured Airelle, unfastening the clasp. "Must cost a fortune…"
"Ah, not so, not so, young lady," came a hoarse voice from the counter, and the two nearly dropped the book. There had been no footsteps to warn them of the person's presence.
Snape collected himself the fastest, and said, "Greetings--"
"Anicula," the old woman supplied. "I am the storekeeper." She came towards them around the counter, and it took Airelle a second to realize she was not walking. She was floating.
"You seem perturbed, young one," she said, stopping in mid-air, her cloak hovering a foot above the dusty floor. The wrinkles on her face had twisted.
Airelle stared at her thoroughly. She couldn't be a ghost, not being transparent. And yet no human could look that old.
"Ah, you must be wondering why I fly," she said with a sickly smile and drifted a little closer. It took all of Airelle's resolve not to back away into the table. Anicula's eyes were blazing yellow under the hood, with black pupils that made her look like a cat. An Animagus, Airelle realized.
The suspicious look on Snape's face did not vanish when the old woman lifted the hem of her robes slightly, revealing two pair of fluttering white-- wings?
This was getting stranger by the minute. The only other place Airelle had seen flying sandals was--
"They're Mercurii," Anicula explained as the winged sandals beat furiously against her ankles. "A thoughtful gift from a wizard in Greece. Certainly beats using a cane to aid an old goat like me in walking. Now," she said, bottomless pupils scrutinizing the faces of the two students, "may I help you with that book?"
"Oh… yes," said Snape, having apparently forgotten that Medicamenta Duodecim Vetusta was still cradled in his hands. "We were just admiring this. May I ask where--"
Anicula's smile widened. "--I received it?" she finished. "My dear young man, does it matter? All that is important now is how much you are willing to pay for it."
Airelle stared at her, and the storekeeper's yellow eyes caught her own black ones. "From what I understand," said Anicula slowly, "if someone stops in front of my store, paralyzed by a book in the window, it is obvious that the person in question would like that particular book very much."
"Well, you see," stammered Airelle before her friend could reply, "we had heard of it, and how interesting it must be--"
"Of course, of course," she said airily, gliding behind the counter again and propping her bony, cloak-covered elbows on the wood. Airelle would have bet half her life savings the woman's feet did not reach the floor. "Many have sought this book, and have returned it. This is why I leave it out in the window." She sighed. "It seems worth a lot, but with no buyers, I'm afraid the price shall dwindle to nothing, and then I must put it away for good--"
"No!" Airelle had stepped forward, and blushed at her own rashness. "I mean…" –she glanced back at Snape, who shrugged—"how much is it?"
Anicula stared at them long and hard, and finally said, "I suppose…" She trailed off. "Ah, twenty Galleons."
Yikes, thought Airelle. The price of the black widow legs sounded like a walk in the park next to this. They didn't have that sort of money.
"Done," said Snape, coming to the counter and removing a pouch from inside his robes. Airelle stared at him. But then again, his parents were very rich, from pure-blooded families going back generations…
"Are you certain?" asked Anicula, and something passed through her eyes Airelle did not like. But she kept quiet. "You are rather young for this…"
"The shop rules give restrictions here?" asked Snape, black eyes glinting. Airelle knew how much he wanted that book… And yet, hadn't he been hesitant a minute ago?
"No, of course not," said Anicula, rolling the golden coins around in her small, brown wrinkled hand. "But if you wish to return it, feel free to do so." Airelle bit her lip unnoticeably. Why did she have a strange tingle in her throat?
"Deal," said Snape.
"I could kiss you," said Airelle to Snape, and laughed at his incredulous stare. "That book was the best investment we'd ever made!" The aforementioned book, acquired two months previously from a little musty store in Diagon Alley, had allowed them to make potions they did not even know could be concocted from such simple ingredients. Bless the ancients of Alexandria, thought Airelle, grinning slyly as they entered the Potions Classroom. It was empty; the current professor had gone to bed.
Snape shut the door after making certain they had not been seen. Then he crossed over to the fireplace.
"What's the password you made this month?" wondered Airelle aloud, wiping off dust that had accumulated on her sleeve from leaning on one of the desks.
"Boomslang skin," said Snape, and the fireplace immediately slid aside with an unenthusiastic creak. At least it was better than having a painting for a gateway. After a few encounters with Sir Cadogan, Airelle did not want to have any painting as a password-acceptor.
They stepped inside, the familiar musky smell greeting their nostrils like a memory from the past. The remnants of a potion they'd made still hung in the air as a sticky residue, settling in whispers into Airelle's hair and making her scalp tingle.
She walked to the Ingredients Table and lifted up the large black book. The cobra on it gleamed and reflected the Ravenclaw girl's face. She flicked through the pages to the last potion. The book had been a dream-- using the easiest of processes, it gave the recipes for the twelve basic mortal potions. Each one connected to a particular emotion of a person, and the table of contents, obviously added by a later editor, read something to the extent:
I. Love: Just add water! Exceedingly simple to brew, yet beware of consequences.
II. Hate: Remarkably similar to Love, and should be handled with as much care.
III. Indifference: Make that annoying someone leave you alone for good.
IV. Jealousy: What can we say? Useful, to be sure, but dangerous.
V. Sadness: When someone needs a bit of doom and gloom in life.
VI. Betrayal: Inflicts powerful emotions from everyone around the bearer. Use with caution.
VII. Friendship: Self-explanatory.
VIII. Guilt: Because some people could just use some.
IX. Exclusion: How can anyone not feel left out sometime?
X. Respect: Amaze your elders.
XI. Confidence: Be the cynosure of all eyes!
XII. Disdain: Caveat.
Airelle sighed and shut the book's cover over the pages. They had finished all the potions but the last; and a long night was ahead of them. But it was Friday, so they could sleep it off later. She grinned, thinking what would occur if her friends figured out where she sneaked off on so many occasions. If they only knew the little Ravenclaw bookworm was wandering about with Severus Snape, the nastiest, most cunning, bitterest, and cleverest Slytherin in their year. So the two were friends during the day; most people knew that-- but Airelle's roommates would have a fit if they knew that she spent her nights with him (so to speak) as well.
Snape yawned as the fireplace slid closed behind his back with a great asthmatic heave. "One day, we have to get that thing fixed," he said wanly, reaching for a vial of maroon Awakening Potion in his robe pocket and draining it. The effect was immediate; his eyes lit up like two smoldering coals on a hot plate. His tall, lean form straightened itself and went to work, dragging a chair to the Ingredients Table, shuffling around in some lonely boxes that were collecting dust in the corner, randomly (or so it seemed) throwing wet plant mixes into the stirring-bowl…
The more Airelle watched him, the more she decided to keep her own doses of Awakening Potion. They had modified the original in their second year, the former having too many unpleasant side effects; Airelle remembered…
"That is it, Snape!"
He turned around, his gaze leaving the hissing, frothing liquid. "What's with you? I thought you'd be asleep by now."
"Apparently, I would be. However, I open my eyes, and what do I see? I am sleepwalking around the hallways and bumping into unnaturally horny suits of armor! It's embarrassing!"
He knew Airelle spoke of the Insta-Awake Potion they'd stocked up on in Diagon Alley. The consequences of unregulated dosage ranged from doddering about aimlessly to waking up and finding oneself nude, standing on one's head, and making faces at the mermaid painting in the prefects' bathroom. Not pretty, sine dubiō.
"All right, all right, Airelle… we shall try and change the potion…"
"So, making Number Twelve today?" she asked, lips still twitching from the drink of the memory. Second year seemed so far away; she had never spent this much time at a school before. And to think… there was even more than a year left until Graduation. Yes indeed, she still had time to think about what to do with her life. Sileah and Maxine, two of her friends, were already boasting of the great research they would engage in once they left school. They had their eyes on New Guinea, to search for a rumored Nundu there. Airelle thought it was suicide. As if there weren't enough of those deadly creatures in Africa.
"Yes," replied Snape, swirling the contents of the stirring-bowl madly counterclockwise. "Hand me that spoon, will you?"
Airelle did, and then turned back to the book to read the recipe.
"Disdain," she read aloud, setting the book on a stand supported by wooden gargoyle claws; it had been this year's Christmas present from her to Snape. He'd gotten her Most Dangerous Illusions Known to the Wizarding World; a very thoughtful gift, if you asked Airelle. Even though it did try to clamp the circulation in her hand off when she picked it up for the first time. Ah, what were friends for?
"A dangerous potion," she continued, ("Aren't they all?" snorted Snape) "that involves infliction of severe emotional disturbance upon the person in question. There is no physical pain, other than a headache and a bad disposition, however. First employed by the infamous Egyptian wizard Rallisis--" Here the space between lines was roughly filled in shiny blue ink with an Editor's Note: Rallisis is a distant ancestor of H. Houdini, who is still alive today (he ceased to enjoy Muggle publicity and prying, and performed a Confundus Charm on them to fake his death). "--the Disdain Potion has lasting effects, and should be treated with caution when brewing. No more than two people should be present at the simmering hour, for the potion may explode with the energy of three or more essences and will have deadly consequences."
Airelle turned the page. The paper was either very old, or an extremely convincing forgery. But the writing seemed to slide off the page, creeping into her eyelids slyly. She realized it was bewitched with a Cognoscus Charm, to make the reader understand the words no matter what language he or she was familiar with:
Newt eyes (XXXV)
Wolfsbane (one stem)
Pure Water (two goblets)
Wings of a European Golden Snidget
Human Blood from the Stomach of a Kappa
Airelle cringed. She had never seen a list this difficult to procure before. All the others had been so easy. Even the Hate Potion, though it wore off with a simple charm, was simpler. But this--Golden Snidgets were a protected species, newt eyes horrendously expensive… a kappa wouldn't give up its dinner, for sure… and as for the last-- let's just say Airelle did not want to face off with a creature second only to the Nundu in deadliness. There was something amiss with the potion-- it looked like it did not belong with the others.
She glanced at Snape, who said, "Well, are you going to read the ingredients anytime soon?"
The Ravenclaw sixth-year laughed bitterly and pulled her white hair into a loose ponytail that scratched her shoulders. "I don't think we are cut out for this one, Snape," she said.
Her friend only began to look perturbed after she'd read the list to him.
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully, pausing from his mixture and massaging his temples. As if that would help. Airelle would rather go against a dragon than a Lethifold any day. She hated to admit it, even to herself, but one of her greatest fears was anything that sneaked up unseen, like a thief in the night, until it was too late…
Snape dissolved her thoughts with a comment. "Perhaps I could procure the Lethifold."
"Fine, you get yourself killed," snapped Airelle, smacking herself into a chair and jumping up because some large and prickly plant happened to be perched on the seat. "See if I care." She did care about her friend's safety, of course; but that was for her to know by herself.
"I really wish to know what this potion does," muttered Snape, leaning over the empty cauldron forlornly.
"Well, I do too, but I'm not ready to die for it."
"Neither am I," said Snape darkly, brushing his black hair out of his face in an annoyed fashion. He always kept it down; perhaps the fact that Airelle sometimes teased him about making a ponytail with a pink ribbon out of it had something to do with his reluctance to pull it back. Perhaps.
"But I want to know," he added after a while, and Airelle sighed. Maybe he'd have more sense tomorrow, in the morning, and see that it was all a crazy idea. Then again, trying to persuade Severus Snape to sleep at a time like this was like getting Professor Binns to dance the jig.
She tried anyway. The book, no matter what qualms she'd been having about it earlier, was a very good one (and useful for tricking Potter and his pals), but this potion was too much. Even with his Slytherin ambition, Snape should have realized that by now.
"I'm going to bed," she said. "Coming?" Please, please agree.
"In a little while," said Snape, waving a black-robed arm impatiently. He was sixteen, and already this stubborn. She'd hate to see him at thirty-six… "All these other ingredients are fine. But I must figure out how to capture a Lethifold without being attacked."
Airelle had not given up. "You are not going out right now looking for one. For Merlin's sake, Snape, they live in tropical climates! Unless you've suddenly decided to have a weekend getaway, I do not see you getting out of school anytime soon."
Snape looked up from the cauldron. His black eyes were glittering in a way Airelle did not trust. "Do not worry, I shall figure something out without having to step a foot outside the school," he said, and Airelle knew there was a catch to the statement. So, did she respect her friend, and just leave it up to him? Or would she spy on his activities and make sure he did not get his behind into trouble like she had gotten so many times?--
"I'm going to bed," she said curtly, and walked out, leaving Snape alone with the vacant cauldron.
Ten minutes later, Airelle Vilka, protected with a new Invisibility Illusion she'd perfected, stood silently outside the Potions Classroom, listening intently. Yes, she definitely considered herself a true friend.
It took two hours of yawning and shadow-watching on Airelle's part for Snape to finally emerge from the classroom. He was clutching something in his arms that looked like a small pouch. Taking a swig from her invisible pumpkin juice bottle, Airelle followed her friend stealthily down the empty corridors. She found it difficult to keep up with him, especially since she thought Snape had been headed towards the dungeons and the Slytherin common room. But he was not, and that was what puzzled Airelle. Could he be walking towards the Ravenclaw common room, and to her?-- but he did not know the password--then again, he'd gotten into her room many times, it was nothing new--and the portrait would not recognize him in the dark--but what if it did--and if it did not, he'd walk in, expecting to find her--and would find only her roommates--and oh, dear--
Those were the thoughts flashing through her mind right before she realized she'd lost sight of her friend's black flowing robes again. Tiptoeing carefully on the stones, Airelle Vilka came around a corner littered with cobwebs, and saw--
Nothing. Snape was not there; no one could be seen through the dark tunnel. But didn't he just go this way?
Airelle looked around, slowly. Where on earth did he go?
Just when she began to think it was all a figment of her imagination, there was a rustling sound, soft as a whisper, behind her. Airelle spun around, heart clutched tight by her ribs as if it would tear the bones and flutter off.
Nothing. What the bloody heck was happening?--
She turned back towards the corridor she'd been staring at, breathing irregularly. And came face to face with Severus Snape.
His voice was calm, soft, and deadly. Airelle realized that the tip of his wand was pressing into the middle of her throat, and she felt her pulse behind it. Snape could not see her, but only feel. And yet somehow, he figured out someone was following him. She'd have to compliment him, if she ever got out of this with limbs intact.
"Show yourself or die," he said. The words sounded like a caress, but the type that a coffin's soft pillow gives. His black eyes gleamed dangerously; Snape was looking straight at her face. All too well, because he could not see her stunned expression. The back of her mind still had not registered how he'd come up behind her without Airelle sensing it. Strange, indeed.
"Snape, it's Airelle," she whispered hoarsely, the wand still digging into her throat as if it could bear a black hole in it.
His expression softened at once, but then flared up again as he took his wand away and Airelle removed the Invisibility Illusion from herself. She was still clutching her pumpkin juice bottle.
"Are you mad?" he hissed, dark gaze fixed upon her. "I could have killed you!"
"I know," she said, voice suddenly neutral. "You nearly did kill me by scaring me to death."
"I knew you'd follow," he said, "but I cannot believe you'd be so ignorant as to use invisibility when you know I am jumpy. I could have just hexed my own friend, and not even known who it was!"
"Well, it's not MY fault someone decided to somehow take on a Lethifold," Airelle retorted, eyes flaring as well. "What did you expect me to do, go idly to bed and leave you there?"
Something quick--was it a smile?--passed over Snape's thin lips, but he said harshly, "You know I'm not that thick, to go after a Lethifold myself."
"So what were you doing just now?" exploded Airelle, and Snape put a finger up, mouthing, "Filch." Airelle understood the warning; she could not be too loud, or Argus Filch would have a field day with her, wandering around at night.
She repeated the sentence, this time in an obvious whisper. "So what were you doing just now?"
"If you must know," said Snape, "I was going to the kitchens to ask the house-elves for two goblets of pure water. What we have in our pipes is not the right one. An elf named Aorna often gave me great doses of it in the beginning of our very first year."
"Oh," said Airelle, feeling slightly stupid. "So does that mean you made the potion?"
Snape, now smiling oddly, held up the pouch, and poured a small amount of silvery, sparking powder onto Airelle's palm. "Correct. Now all I need is the water. I substituted several amounts of different venom in order to give it the same suffocating effect a Lethifold would provide."
"Are you sure that is wise?"
"According to a book I'd been reading for the past hour," said Snape lazily, "the Lethifold is an easily substituted ingredient in potion-making. Many have contributed to these alternatives, since Lethifolds are so difficult to acquire. It is a great achievement, really."
"So how did you get your hands on the venom—and the Golden Snidget wings—"
"Never mind that," said Snape hastily, not looking at Airelle. "What is important now is--"
"AHOOOOOOY THERE, ICKLE SIX YEARS!" boomed a voice from the wall. It was suddenly so deafeningly loud in the corridor that it rung in Airelle's ears. She loosened her grip on the pumpkin juice and it spilled all over her robes. The two spun, and simultaneously said in murderous voices, "Peeves."
The poltergeist floated out, looking like he was having the time of his life--err, afterlife-- and swinging a transparent stick larger than his own body.
"WHOOSH!" he cackled. "STUDENTS OUT OF BED!!"
Snape pointed his wand at Peeves, and was about to say something when a throng of voices erupted from the corridor. It sounded like McGonagall, Sinistra, and Flitwick. Blast it. Not good.
Knowing spells would not be useful, Snape and Airelle took off at a run. But not before blasting Peeves into the opposite wall with a well-placed Illusion.
They'd been running for seven minutes before Snape pulled Airelle into an empty classroom. They stood, stark still, and listened. No voices; nothing.
Airelle heaved a deep sigh before realizing something. Snape was staring at her in absolute horror.
"Airelle," he breathed, alarm soaking his voice, "don't move. Don't you dare…"
"What?" she whispered. "Is there a spider the size of Antarctica on me?"
"Worse," he replied. "You wiped your hands on your robe."
"Your robe had pumpkin juice on it…"
"Ohh…" she drawled absently, not knowing what to say. Snape's eyes widened, and the room began to brighten. Desks stood like crouched creatures in the semi-darkness, the shadows dancing on them created by--
Airelle's robe. It was glowing a bright neon orange.
"I think we just created a Thirteenth Potion," said Snape, stepping closer to have a look. "The pumpkin juice was not part of the equation."
"Neither was the venom in place of the Lethifold," hissed Airelle, more out of uneasiness than anger. And then--
"Snape… something's happening…"
Her friend seemed to finally get his senses back, and came towards her in a blinding rush, tugging at the things that fastened her potion-soaked robes together. "Take this blasted thing off before it explodes!" he breathed. "I've never seen this before, and I have no idea what it's supposed to do…"
There was a strange, tingly feeling in the pit of Airelle's stomach, and every drop of blood inside her suddenly seemed to feel very light. She was floating, and barely heard Snape's voice as she closed her eyes…
When she opened them, it was not a pretty picture.
Good grief, I'm dead! she exclaimed, but no one seemed to hear her. Not even Snape, whose profile was in front of her. Along with that of another girl. A rather pretty one, with black eyes, and white hair--
Wait a second, she thought. That's me…
The Airelle in her vision resembled a medium in a trance. Snape was jerking viciously at her robes, which were still glowing a vivid orange. It looked like a bad Halloween decoration.
She opened her eyes wider, slowly, as Airelle looked on.
"Don't stand there like a statue, help me take these off you!" he demanded, gesturing towards her garments, which were by this point shining a fluorescent, clear white like a water bubble.
Airelle watched as the girl stared at Snape. Stared around. And then, her mouth spread into a grin Airelle didn't even know her face could contort into.
She spoke, and her voice was deep, much like Airelle's often was when she'd had one too many butterbeers.
"Gladly," the girl murmured, and the robe slipped off her shoulders effortlessly. It fell to the floor, still glowing, and she stepped out of it.
Snape (wisely, Airelle thought) had backed away. "Airelle?" he asked, as if not sure his friend was all there. "Are you all right?"
"Just fine," the girl replied, backing Snape towards the classroom door. Her feet made no sound on the floor. The Slytherin sixth-year looked positively aghast.
"Are you certain?"
"Of course, I'm perfect," she said, voice dropping to a richer tone as she came dangerously close to him. Airelle couldn't believe her ears when the girl added, "How long I've waited… and now, you finally ask me to help you remove…" She chuckled. "This."
Snape swallowed visibly as she brought his hand to her shoulder, making it hover just above the straps of the nightgown that Airelle recognized as hers.
"I cannot tell you how much I've dreamed of this--your hands on me," she kept saying. Airelle, in the midst of being horrified, finally realized what had happened.
Veritaserum! We've created a Truth Potion!
But it was a different one than anything Airelle had ever seen. This had something wrong with it. Not only was it exaggerated, but there was also a sinister feeling in the air. Airelle grasped the fact that she had to get back into that body-- now.
Come on, Snape, she said. Don't give in, or I swear I'll hurt you as soon as I become tangible.
Snape did not hear her; he was too preoccupied with the other Airelle. She now had her face inches away from his, and touched several strands of his hair with her free hand.
"Such beautiful black," she murmured carefully, treading closer and backing him against the door. Airelle desperately hoped someone would open it at that moment. Who cared if it was McGonagall? Detention was better than having to spend eternity as a disembodied entity.
But no one did. Silence reigned for a while, and the girl said, "You are so exquisite. And I know, I feel it… your power, your intelligence, your…" She paused, and trailed her finger from his hair down lower, and lower… The real Airelle gritted her teeth and gnashed them like a badly mangled can opener.
Snape, finding he had nowhere to go backwards, instead focused his attention on the other Airelle's hand, which was very steady…
No, pleaded Airelle, watching them. Oh, no. No, no, no. Fight those damn hormones, Snape, she's not real…
But, apparently, her hand was, and Snape shifted uncomfortably where he stood. The girl smiled; her voice was mesmerizing, like the flute of a snake charmer. Snake charmer. Perfect for Slytherin… "That's right," she purred. "I've wanted you for a while now, Severus…"
Oh, no…fight her… Airelle smiled despite herself. This was like watching a scene out of a bad horror or romance movie.
Snape's eyes darted a little. And then, he smiled back. It was a pure Slytherin smile, wicked, dark, alluring with a punch of something else that only Snape could give. Airelle wished for a mere moment he could smile like that at her before cursing herself.
And then, she watched as the slender fingers of Snape's right hand pulled down the left strap of the other Airelle's peignoir.
"Did you?" he growled, voice dark and caressing, his hand gracefully pinching and releasing her shoulder blade, playing over the bone as if he could crush it at any moment.
"Oh, yes." The look on the girl's face was pure, angelic ecstasy as Snape leaned in close (the real Airelle wanted nothing more than to cover her eyes, but remained glued to her spot), the tension in the air taut and singing, sharp as a razor.
He did not kiss her. Instead, the girl opened her eyes to find Snape's face exactly where it should have been-- a few centimeters in front of her. However, the look was drastically different.
The smile was still on his countenance, but his eyes had narrowed to black slits. The most significant change, though, was the fact that a wand was pointed straight at her heart.
"Dear me," he said, voice as silky as ever, "someone has made a mistake."
She stared at him, eyes wide, and he continued blandly.
"Airelle never calls me by my first name like that." He paused, as if contemplating. "Stupefy."
A jet of light erupted from his wand and hit the girl squarely in the chest, sending Snape slamming against the door in a recoil and jettisoning her right towards--
Airelle didn't even have time to yelp with delight as the body hit her like an ocean wave.
They-- no-- she-- slid against the floor. Upon regaining the feeling in her lungs, Airelle raised her head groggily. A flash of swishing robes, and Snape was next to her, wand at the ready again.
"Now THAT's what I call an out-of-body experience," she gasped, sitting up.
A look of relief passed over Snape's face, and he extended a hand to her. Airelle ignored it and stood up herself.
"As long as I do not fall over, I can do it myself," she said, and brushed past him, pausing at the door.
"You know what?" she asked, grinning.
"I'm going to bed." And she walked out the door with her head up on purpose.
Snape shook his head, long black hair sweeping across his shoulders. "There's the real Airelle Vilka for you," he muttered, smiling, and followed. "I'm returning that book tomorrow…"
And they left, both knowing quite well that not a word of this was to be uttered to anyone.
"Well, are you satisfied?" came a voice from the corner soon after the door had closed and the footsteps of the two students receded.
"Of course, Anicula," said Albus Dumbledore, removing his shimmering Invisibility Cloak and leaning on the wall. His companion appeared, along with the sound of her winged sandals. "I never doubted your intelligence."
"So," said the old woman, gliding closer, a smile on her ancient face, "I receive my book back, and the whole cycle begins again."
"Indeed it does. But if you ever need a change of pace," replied Dumbledore, laughing, "I shall be glad to help. Although, I do not think I can be of much use to a millennia-old woman who was worshipped as a feline goddess by the Pharaoh's People."
"But if you ever are," smiled Anicula, yellow eyes shining, "I'll be sure to remember you."
"Miss Vilka's parents will be very grateful," said the Headmaster, stroking his long white beard. "They have met Severus Snape on occasions and have doubted his honesty."
"Muggles are more perceptive than we give them credit for."
Dumbledore nodded. "And thus, one less worry is settled. Now, would you care to come and have late supper with me and Minerva? We have some delicious cinnamon pie we'd like you to try…"