The Sugar Quill
Author: Christina Teresa (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Soul of a Hufflepuff  Chapter: Chapter Two: When is a Hufflepuff like a Slytherin?
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Chapter Two: When is a Hufflepuff Like a Slytherin?

A/N: A very special thank you to Juliane, Night Zephyr, J.K. Rose and the gals at the SQ Workshop for getting me through this chapter.

~*~

Early Wednesday morning, Severus was in his private lab tossing a handful of skullcap into the Wolfsbane Potion he was making for Remus Lupin. The skullcap had no real effect except that it made it taste like dirty socks. He grinned evilly as he stirred; anything to make the werewolf's life a little more miserable.

For three days Severus had racked his brain trying to think of some way to help Veronica, but he was no closer to finding a solution than he had been the day he had reluctantly postponed their wedding. Unfortunately, the wizarding world had only slightly more luck healing the spirit as the Muggle world. There were dozens of healers who claimed to work miracles, but their 'cures' for psychic pain usually included powerful Memory Charms and potions that eventually caused irreparable damage to the mind.

"The door was ajar, so I let myself in."

Severus jumped at the sound of Dumbledore's voice in his left ear. He would have cursed anyone else for creeping up on him like that, but Severus just sighed. "Good morning, Albus; what can I do for you?"

"I was hoping I could do something for you," the old wizard replied. "Interference was never my intention. I find it's always best to let the couple work things out for themselves, if possible—"

"But I am at a loss, Albus," Severus said almost desperately, unable to meet the Headmaster's eyes. "Please tell me you can help her."

"I can't, but I do know someone who can. A healer—"

Severus snorted and rolled his eyes.

Dumbledore raised his hand. "Her name is Vidya Devi. She's a very old and dear friend of mine. If anyone can help Veronica, she can." The Headmaster, with a decidedly sheepish look in his eyes, took a sudden interest in a jar of rat brains. "I, uh, took the liberty of owling her yesterday. She'll be here the day after tomorrow. I hope you can forgive my meddling."

Normally, Severus would have been irritated at Dumbledore's presumption, but not today. "I just hope Veronica appreciates your meddling as much as I do."

The Headmaster smiled, then sniffed the pungent contents of the cauldron, raising a snowy eyebrow. "I didn't know skullcap was a necessary ingredient for a Wolfsbane Potion."

One corner of Severus' mouth curled up. "It isn't."

Dumbledore grinned wryly and shook his head, apparently resigned to the fact that Severus would never pass up an opportunity to pull one over on Lupin if he could help it. The old wizard clapped him on the back. "Come along, Severus, it's time for breakfast. I'm absolutely famished."

With a glimmer of hope in his heart, Severus followed Dumbledore to the Great Hall. Veronica was already there, halfway through her own breakfast. She certainly looked happier than she had in weeks, but Severus didn't know whether to be pleased or worried. She had made up her face, arranged her hair prettily and was wearing a particularly flattering robe of purple silk. Severus had learned that these 'improvements' in her appearance were often her way of masking her inner turmoil.

"Good morning, Severus!" she said brightly—a little too brightly. "If you're not busy this afternoon, how would you like to join me in Dungeon Six for Patronus practice?"

Veronica had somehow talked Dumbledore into allowing a dementor into the castle so Potter, Weasley and Granger could learn how to cast a Patronus. Then Veronica got it into her head to teach the sixth and seventh year students how to cast one as well—in fact, she had made it a part of this year's practical N.E.W.T. exams. Dumbledore's growing fears of a mass dementor defection to Voldemort's cause was no doubt a factor in his decision to approve her pet project.

"As enjoyable as spending an afternoon with a dementor sounds, I'm afraid I have too much work to do." As soon as he sat down, his plate was filled with rashers, big slabs of ham and three fried eggs. "I have Lupin's potion to finish."

"That's too bad. You should see Fred Weasely's Patronus—it's hilarious."

Severus smirked. "What is it, a rubber chicken?"

"Someone told you!" Veronica attempted to pout, but instead giggled with delight.

"Not at all," he said with a slight sneer. "After seven years with the Weasley twins, I know how their twisted little minds work."

"I'm going to miss those two," she said wistfully. It seemed Veronica's appetite had also returned along with her sense of humor. She practically inhaled an entire piece of toast in a matter of seconds.

"Veronica, I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me tonight; in your room perhaps." When a look of hope mixed with doubt crossed her face, Severus added, "Just to talk."

Her gaze fell on her plate. Was she disappointed? She turned back to him and nodded. "That would be nice. Eight o'clock all right?"

 

"Eight o'clock will be f—" He stopped himself mid sentence as he observed Veronica absent-mindedly spear a sausage off a platter and pop it into her mouth. He stared at her, dumbstruck. "Did you just eat—meat?"

Veronica gazed at her empty fork curiously, then dropped it on her plate with a clang. "I don't know what came over me." Severus watched as she turned a light shade of green. "Excuse me," she said as she jumped out of her chair and ran to the teachers' entrance to the Great Hall, "I have to go throw up."

Severus took a look at the food on his own plate, feeling a little green himself, and covered it with his napkin. Now she's eating meat?! Granted, she was in the process of throwing it up, but still…What in the hell is happening to her? Severus wished this Devi woman would hurry and cursed Dumbledore for not meddling a few days sooner.

~*~

Today was the second worst day in the history of Ron Weasley's school career, for today was the day he received the results of his mock O.W.L.s. The worst day would surely be the day he received the results from the real thing.

As they looked over their exams during lunch, Harry, who had done surprisingly well, was trying to hide his own relief and comfort his friend; Hermione was too busy panicking over the one question she missed on her Transfiguration exam to be of any use at all.

"Cheer up, Ron," Harry said, "you're doing great in Defense Against the Dark Arts, I'm sure you passed that one."

Ron smiled weakly and picked up a piece of cheese. After thinking about the state of his stomach for a moment, he dropped it and pushed his plate away from him. Somehow he didn't think passing one O.W.L. would be enough to keep his mother from killing him.

~*~

"Most of you did very well on your mock O.W.L.s," Professor Stanley told them towards the end of Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Ron looked around anxiously at his classmates. No one besides him looked worried. Even Neville Longbottom seemed happy.

"But some of you," at this, Stanley glanced at Ron with her familiar look of affectionate disappointment, "need to focus before next week."

 

She picked up a stack of parchments and started passing them out. She had sorted them in alphabetical order, so naturally Ron was the last to get his paper. I must have got at least half of them right. He groaned as he added up his correct answers. Well, almost half.

Hermione glanced at his paper and shook her head, mirroring Stanley's look of disapproval. Harry put his hand on his shoulder and whispered, "Don't worry, Ron, it's just a practice exam."

"My suggestion to all of you is to use this exam as a study tool. Review all the material, but concentrate on your weak areas. More importantly, I want you all to relax! O.W.L.s are important, but they're not life and death." With that, the bell rang. With a sigh, Ron shoved his exam in his rucksack as he rose from his seat.

He was just about to follow Harry and Hermione out when he heard Professor Stanley call his name. "Mr. Weasley, may I see you for a moment?"

Ron regarded his friends with despair.

They both tried to look encouraging. "We'll tell Snape where you are," said Harry.

Ron winced. He had tried especially hard not to think about his mock Potions O.W.L. results, but he still had that ordeal to suffer through before this terrible day ended.

"And will you please stop looking like you're getting ready to be thrown to a bunch of dementors?" Hermione scolded. "I'm sure Professor Stanley wants to help you."

He nodded as he watched his friends leave, then marched slowly towards Stanley.

"What happened, Ron?" she asked, settling on the edge of her desk.

He shrugged. "I choked… I don't test well…" Ron moaned piteously. "My mum's going to kill me!"

Stanley smiled kindly. "No one's going to kill anybody because you're going to do fine. I know you know the material. You've done well on every other exam; and that's all this is—another exam. After classes today, I want you to come by my office. I have a book on testing strategies that might help."

He groaned. "Another book to read?"

"Now, Ron," Stanley said in a suddenly odd tone of voice as she leaned forward. "I want to help you, but you have to let me help you." She hopped off the edge of her desk and moved toward him, but the way she moved, the way she was now gazing at him—it was like she had turned into a different person. Harry had told Ron that one time in order to frighten him into performing a Defense Spell, Stanley had muttered a Dark Arts curse to make herself temporarily evil, but Ron hadn't heard her say any spells. Besides, she didn't look evil so much as just plain scary.

"I can help you." She reached out her hand and smoothed the front of his robes in the same way his mother had done a hundred times in the past, but Professor Stanley's manner was anything but motherly. "Would you like me to help you, Ron?"

She looked up at him, her lips slightly parted, her cheeks flushed, her eyes—Ron couldn't describe them because no one had ever looked at him like that. He couldn't help thinking that if Snape were to walk in right now, he would receive detention for the rest of his life. He was so terrified he thought he was going to faint. His heart was pounding hard in his chest and he could feel his ears, then his face turning bright red.

 

Stanley reached for him again. Ron wanted to retreat, but he was so confused and afraid that he couldn't move. Suddenly, her eyes clouded over with uncertainty and she withdrew. She backed away and sat behind her desk, looking down at a parchment in front of her, but not really seeing it.

"Mr. Weasley," she murmured, "there are worse things that could happen to you than failing O.W.L.s. Run along to your next class—now."

"Okay," Ron said with a trembling voice and ran out the door.

~*~

As soon as Ron was gone, Veronica covered her mouth in horror. For a few frightening moments she had actually wanted that boy. All manner of disgusting thoughts had crossed her mind as she had tried—unsuccessfully, thank the gods—to seduce him. A sixteen-year-old boy!! Oh gods, what must he think of me?

 

An equally ghastly thought then occurred to her. What if he tells someone? She felt the panic rise inside of her, as she began to pace frantically. He probably won't be believed, she reasoned with almost calculated practicality, but what if it happens again? And what if I don't stop myself next time? What is happening to me?!

There was now no doubt about it, Veronica was indeed going mad. She had heard of this sort of thing before—abused children who turn into abusers. She also knew that once the madness started it was unlikely that she would ever be right again. She looked down at her hands, then slowly pulled back one of her sleeves to expose a deep, horizontal scar. Death was most certainly the answer, but bleeding to death took too long; there was far too great a chance of being rescued again as she had been when she was fifteen. She needed something faster and more certain…Poison!

A plan quickly formulated in her mind. She was free for the rest of the day, but Severus was in the middle of a class. She could easily break into the private stores in his office. He would be none the wiser—at least until he came to her room for dinner and found her…He'll be better off, she told herself as she dashed to the dungeon. Someday he'll see that. I leave him a note. I'll make him understand.

Veronica let herself into his office and opened the lock to the cabinet containing his more valuable, illicit and deadly Potions ingredients. With a shaking hand, she grabbed an empty vial and put a few drops of hemlock extract into it—more than enough to do the job, but not enough to be missed right away. She managed to escape to her room unseen and scribbled a hasty note that ended with: 'I love you, Severus, but I'd rather die than abuse a child.'

She poured the poison into a cup and mixed it with some of the elderberry wine she had planned to serve at dinner. The cup was halfway to her lips when she felt a brilliantly cool self-possession wash over her. All her worries—her problems with Severus and that silly Weasley boy—became unimportant. The only thing in the universe that mattered was her. She looked down at the adulterated wine and laughed. Why on earth would I want to kill myself when I feel so bloody good? Veronica poured the wine in the bathroom sink and threw her suicide note on the fire. Suddenly, there were no more nagging fears. She fervently hoped that this feeling would last forever.

"It can last forever, my angel."

Veronica cried out in surprise. The fire was talking to her, and the voice that came out of it sounded disturbingly like Balin's. As she gazed into the fireplace, his face started to take shape, but flickered along with flames. Her natural response was to douse the blaze and banish the hallucination, but she was once again overcome by the feeling of potent calm, which also seemed to addle her brain somewhat. "How?"

"First," said Balin's burning face, "I want to tell you how very disappointed I am with your so-called seduction of that delectable little redhead. He could have been yours, but you let him slip through your fingers."

She lowered her head. "I-I'm sorry, I'll try again—"

"You'll do no such thing, you stupid girl! He won’t allow himself to be cornered a second time. You'll be lucky if he doesn't tell his friends. I suggest a little subtle intimidation to keep him quiet. I—we cannot afford any more mistakes." Balin shook his blazing head. "You have much to learn about being a predator; so many obstacles to overcome."

Veronica inched as close to the fire as she dared. "Like what?

"Must I tell you everything?" he snapped. "Can't you see the root of all your pain and torment?"

"Tell me, please," she begged.

Balin smiled unpleasantly. "The reason why you are—and always have been—so disgustingly weak is because of your stinking Hufflepuff soul. Destroy it and your anguish will cease."

"Destroy my soul?" Veronica said with alarm as the splendid feeling began to slip away. "But I need it!"

"No, you don't," he countered. "All it causes you is misery.  I was blessed, if you'll pardon my use of that word, to be born without one. Have you ever seen me show a moment's weakness, or suffer an ounce of guilt, shame, or fear? Have you ever once seen me in pain?"

"Yes." She grinned wickedly. "When I kicked you in the groin, remember?"

"Emotional pain, you little—" He sneered, then managed a more even expression on his fiery face. "Aren't you tired of feeling that constant ache in your heart; the never-ending doubt?"

Even in her present state, Veronica didn't trust Balin one whit, but she couldn't deny the euphoric self-confidence she was now experiencing. No more pain, no more doubt…Veronica's eyes narrowed as a speck of clarity broke through the euphoria. "You're trying to trick me!" She raised her wand, but the magic word that would extinguish the fire stuck in her throat as blackness filled her mind…

~*~

 

What was I doing? Oh yes, I was going to kill myself…

Veronica glanced at the fire as if she was looking for something, but all she saw besides the flames were the charred remains of her suicide note. She shook her head to clear it. She remembered bringing the hemlock-laced wine to her lips, and then she was stopped by that marvelous feeling. After that, she couldn't remember a thing.

Well, she didn't feel like killing herself anymore and that was all that mattered. She did feel a slight twinge of guilt at what she had done to Ron Weasley this afternoon, but she was surprisingly philosophical about it. He'll get over it…the silly boy should be grateful for the attention. Besides I didn't actually do anything to him. A low, guttural noise sounded in the back of her throat. Although I wanted to….In an attempt to curtail her current train of thought, Veronica glanced at her watch. "Oh dear, I'm almost late for Patronus practice." She sighed and smiled dreamily. More lovely Weasley boys to admire…

A strange warning signaled in the back of her mind telling her that she had best admire them from afar.

~*~

At exactly eight o'clock, Severus stepped out of the fireplace and into Veronica's room. uHe let out a sigh of annoyance tinged with longing as soon as he laid eyes on his erstwhile fiancée.

Veronica was wearing a new robe of dark green silk that draped sensuously over her petite figure. Beneath the opened front of her robe, peeked a corset made of silver fabric that cinched up her bosom alluringly. Green and silver butterflies were scattered throughout her hair. Severus would have been lying if he had said that a part of him didn't appreciate the stunning effect, but somehow, Slytherin colors didn't seem quite right on her.

"Don't you like it?" she asked with a sly smile.

"You look beautiful," Severus replied, tight-lipped.

"But you're angry, I can tell." Veronica sauntered over to the small table set for two in the middle of the room and poured herself a glass of wine. She offered him one, but he shook his head and remained standing near the fireplace. It was clear he was going to need his wits about him tonight.

"This robe was part of my trousseau," but considering the way things are going between us, I thought it best not to wait to wear it." She grinned and took a long draught of wine. "What would you like to do first, eat or talk?" She traced the edge of her wineglass with her finger and licked her lips. "Or perhaps we could think of something slightly more interesting to occupy our evening."

 

Veronica was obviously getting significantly worse. She had been erratic and moody, but this casual cynicism and blatant attempt at seduction was completely unlike her. The last thing she needed to do was get drunk. Severus snatched the wineglass from her, spilling some of it on the rug before he placed it back on the table, and pulled her over to the sofa.

"I came here to tell you that Dumbledore has sent for a healer." When Veronica tried to turn away from him, he grabbed her arm brusquely and forced her to face him. "She will be here the day after tomorrow. You will see her and you will get better, do you understand me?"

Veronica started to laugh. It wasn't the sweet, girlish giggle he was used to, but a cold, derisive chuckle. Her expression suddenly turned deadly and she swung at him, but he caught her hand before it struck his face. He took her by the shoulders and shook her roughly. "What in the hell is wrong with you?!"

Veronica struggled violently, but Severus tightened his grip on her arms. The anger that had been simmering inside of him for weeks came to boil. He bared his teeth, pushed her down on the sofa and straddled her legs so she couldn't kick him.

"That's it, Severus," she breathed, arching her back. "Hurt me! I know you have it in you. I can see the Darkness in your eyes."

Severus recoiled slightly. For the first time that evening, he looked deeply into his beloved's eyes and realized that this creature pinned beneath him was not his Veronica. He was quickly losing her to madness, but he refused to give her up without a fight. Throughout this ordeal, he took comfort the memory of how her love had saved him from the Killing Curse. She believed in the power of love, as no one he had ever known. If he had not experienced that power for himself, he would have dismissed such sentimental nonsense.

Right now it was all he had.

He pulled her up and embraced her tightly. She fought against him, but he held onto her, letting go of his own anger and replacing it with his ardent love for her. She stopped struggling after a while and put her arms around him. Her body was soon wracked with sobs, and he knew instinctively that Veronica was herself again. Severus released her, but she continued to bury her head in his chest.

Severus reached into his robe pocket and handed her a vial. "Take this." Any time Severus had given Veronica a potion, she had never asked him what it was before she took it—tonight was no exception. She had told him it was because she trusted him completely. He was relieved that at least that hadn't changed.

She downed the vial's contents, and only then asked, "What was that?"

"A Calming Potion mixed with Dreamless Draught."

"Calming Potion?" she said in a mildly accusing tone. "Why didn't you give me this before?"

"It's not safe for you to take it very often—it's highly addictive, but I thought a dose or two wouldn't hurt while we wait for Dumbledore's healer." He pulled a few butterflies out of her hair and stroked her curls. "Do you want me to owl Lupin? I'm sure he'd be willing to take over your classes for the rest of the term."

"No," she replied, "things are bad enough as it is. I couldn't bear the thought of having nothing to do except sit around and think."

Severus nodded. He appreciated only too well the distraction work provided. "Just hold on for a little while longer."

"I'll hold on," Veronica replied shakily, "if you promise not to let go."

Severus took her chin in his hand and looked deeply into her eyes, as if trying to reach in and embrace her very soul. "I won't let go of you, I promise."

~*~

To be continued…

 

//
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