Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
Chapter 3: Unexplainable
Thursday, 29 July
“Ah, Severus. So glad you could make it.”
Severus nodded stiffly as the house-elf who had shown him into the parlor skittered out of sight. “Lucius,” he said as Malfoy ushered him to a vacant chair. It seemed he was supposed to pretend that this was nothing more than a casual dinner invitation. Even if it was nothing more than that, Severus felt almost as awkward as he had fifteen years ago, when he’d first stepped into the Malfoy mansion and had his first indication of how very much difference there was between true wealth and the scant living his own father made working in a Muggle mill. A decade and a half had changed nothing, except that it was no longer his father who was inadequate when held up to this standard. Frugal a spender though he was, and generous though his salary might be, he knew that there would never be an emerald-encrusted mirror in his rooms like the one that hung over the sideboard to his right.
And why would anyone want one? asked a voice of reason within his head. That voice had not been present the first time he’d come here; perhaps it would see him through this encounter unscathed.
“It’s so good to see you again,” Narcissa said, smiling a thin smile that just reached her lips and did not even pretend to touch her eyes. Severus returned the cold, disinterested smile. There had been a time when he’d thought Narcissa beautiful, the epitome of what a woman should be. His knees had gone weak every time he looked at her, and he had known that he looked like a love-sick calf. A scrawny, pathetic love-sick calf. Perhaps three years ago, he'd had the sudden realization that he didn’t even find her attractive anymore. She was too distant, too cold. She looked down her dainty little nose just a little too disdainfully.
“Narcissa,” he replied, bending to kiss her cheek.
“Professor.” Draco extended a hand, looking quite pompous and full of himself. He rivaled his father at that age for pretentiousness. Of course, Lucius had been more successful, or perhaps it was just that Severus had been younger and more inclined to being impressed by such shows. Regardless, he had a difficult time not smirking now.
“Draco,” he replied, grateful that the Malfoy family was a small one. He wasn’t sure how much more of this stilted formality he could endure with a straight face.
“Have a seat there, Severus,” Lucius said, gesturing. Severus paused for a heartbeat until Narcissa had seated herself, arranging her robes over her knees. Once she was settled, he sank into a plush, velvet-upholstered chair. “Cognac?” Lucius asked, pressing a snifter into his hand.
“Well, then,” Lucius said, settling onto the divan beside Narcissa. “Enjoying the summer? I’m sure it’s nice to have a break after spending a year with hundreds of maddening teenagers.”
That reeked of a trap, and Severus sent a surreptitious glance towards Draco, attempting to formulate a suitable response, given that one of the most maddening of those teenagers was none other than Lucius’ son. Lucius must have seen his sideways glance, because he laughed suddenly.
“It’s quite all right, Severus!” he announced. “I’m ready for Draco to go back to school and he’s barely been home two weeks.”
Smirking, Severus swirled his cognac in the glass and inhaled deeply. “There are years when holidays are the only things that keep me sane,” he replied. And years when school can’t start again soon enough. He’d been on duty from midnight until four that morning, sharing Privet Drive with a Charlie Weasley who didn’t seem to want anything to do with him. It had been quite the change from his first turn with Remus.
“I’m not that bad!” Draco protested, eliciting a chuckle from Lucius.
“No, you’re not,” he conceded. “He’s really doing well in all his subjects. Excellent and Outstanding right down the line. I really can’t complain.”
“Of course, it would make us just that much more proud to discover that Draco has been chosen as a prefect,” Narcissa said.
It was on the edge of Severus’ tongue to inform Narcissa that he did not select prefects based on the power of a student’s parents. He bit back the comment, though. He had turned in his recommendation to Dumbledore last April, and felt sure that Draco would be receiving his badge with his letter this year, but if Narcissa and Lucius wanted to believe they had something to do with that decision, he’d let them think it.
“Perhaps you will have reason to celebrate, then,” he replied . A flicker of a smile crossed Lucius’ face, and he opened his mouth as though to say something more, but a crack! preempted whatever he’d been going to add.
“Millie is be telling Master dinner is being ready,” squeaked a house-elf, her pointed ears perking up hopefully. Severus had always thought that house elves looked a bit sad, and this one was no exception. Her saucer-like eyes were turned up to Malfoy in adoration, her nose quivering, hands clasped beneath her chin. Severus could almost hear her hoping that she had pleased Lucius.
“How many times must I tell you not to interrupt?” Lucius demanded, and Severus wished he could Disapparate away from the scene.
Millie’s ears drooped almost to her shoulders. “Millie is being sorry, Master,” she whimpered, her hands trembling now.
Lucius picked up a sturdy-looking decorative marble sculpture from the table beside him and held it out. After a moment, he gave it an irritated shake and Millie gasped, hopping forward to take it from him.
“I believe nine times will suffice. For nine words spoken without permission.”
Severus felt a wave of pity for the elf. He couldn’t imagine treating any living thing the way Malfoy treated his house elves. Millie cracked the sculpture against her head, and Severus winced as she hit herself with it again and again. He didn’t dare turn away, beyond a flick of his eyes in Draco’s direction. Draco looked delighted at the spectacle. Severus felt vaguely ill as Millie finished her punishment and returned the sculpture to Lucius, looking slightly dizzy.
“Thank you, master,” she said in a trembling voice, then disappeared with another crack!
“Well,” Lucius said, replacing the statue on the table. “Shall we?”
Narcissa rose, and Severus followed her into the dining room, pity for the elf still tugging at his gut. Dinner was a leisurely five course meal. After three hours of insignificant, idle chatter over an obscene amount of food, and a meandering journey down memory lane, Narcissa excused herself and Lucius dismissed Draco to ‘do whatever it is you do.’
If Severus was appalled at the way Lucius ignored his offspring, he kept his comments to himself.
A few minutes later, Lucius was sitting behind a large walnut desk in his study, leaning back in his throne of a chair. Severus was seated in front of the desk in a stiff leather armchair, and given the grandeur of the room, the presence of Lucius, and the tenseness of the situation in general, Severus couldn’t help but feel like a bit like a student called to a teacher’s office.
“Well, Severus,” Lucius said with an affable smile. “You’ve certainly made a muck of it this time, haven’t you?”
It was a little after six on Friday morning, which meant that the guard shift Remus was sharing with McGonagall was a little better than halfway over. The sun was up, already shining ferociously as though to prove it could heat the earth to intolerable temperatures before noon. The two of them were walking along the street, their heads down as they passed number four and cast furtive stares in the direction of their target.
After two days of shifts, the members of the Order had come to the conclusion that Harry’s Aunt Petunia Dursley saw and noticed everything. She had already taken to narrowing her eyes at Diggle, Doge and Dung, which was worrisome. They needed to be able to pass along the street for another five weeks and it did not bode well that she already seemed to recognize some of them after three mornings.
“I think we need to rethink our schedules a bit,” Remus muttered, leaning against a lamp post while McGonagall pretended to empty a rock from her shoe.
“I think we need to rethink our entire strategy,” she muttered. “And I’ll be discussing it with Albus as soon as I see him again.”
Remus glanced at number four, and sure enough, Petunia Dursley’s horse-like face was peering out of the kitchen window, frowning at them. Trying to look unconcerned, Remus yawned and stretched, and when McGonagall straightened, he whispered, “Don’t look at the house. She’s watching.”
“That woman needs something productive to do,” McGonagall muttered as they began walking again. “Anyone who is that concerned with what everyone else is doing is a little too idle.”
Remus chuckled. “I’m sure she believes she does the neighborhood a great service by being so aware.”
“I’m sure she does the gossip mongers a great service.” McGonagall pulled a watch out of her pocket and looked at it, then snapped it shut again.
“Got a hot date?” Remus teased.
She snorted. “Hardly. I am anxious to speak with Severus, though. He hadn’t returned from his dinner invitation yet when I left the school.”
“Late dinner,” Remus commented neutrally, frowning a bit.
“Very late,” McGonagall agreed.
After their failed conversation the other night, Remus hadn’t spoken to Severus, though that wasn’t to say that he hadn’t been thinking about him. He couldn’t help but think that he’d destroyed any chance he might have ever created for himself with the other wizard. There had to be an art to pressing Severus without provoking him, but Remus had crossed that line without even realizing it was there until he couldn’t even retreat back across it. It was an odd emptiness he felt, longing for and missing someone who was never his to begin with. “I hope he’s all right,” he said.
For a long moment, Minerva was silent, and when Remus looked at her, she was studying him critically.
“What?” he asked, beginning to feel uncomfortable under her sharp gaze. That was the same piercing stare that wrought confessions from guilty students who were convinced that she already knew everything and holding back would be fruitless. She doesn’t know, so keep your mouth shut, he told himself.
“I might ask you the same thing,” she replied.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Even as he said it, he could have kicked himself—that was as good as admitting guilt.
“You seemed very concerned about Severus just a moment ago,” she said. “Too concerned. I’m no fool, Remus. There is no love lost between the two of you, and that makes me wonder what you’re not telling me.”
A momentary surge of panic welled in his stomach, and a low buzz began to hum in his ears. She doesn’t know. She can’t know. You haven’t told anyone, so she can’t possibly know. Unless Severus told her. The thought of Severus telling her was worthy of another moment of panic, but he pushed the worry from his head—the way Snape had reacted, Remus doubted he would have even told a brick wall. There was no way she knew, and he wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. Good lord. What would happen if this got out? He could just imagine the reactions. He could just imagine Sirius’ reaction. He suppressed a shudder. “What would I not be telling you?” he asked.
“Well, now I know you’re keeping something from me, and I want to know what it is, Remus Lupin. Out with it.”
NO! It was as though every brain cell exploded at the same time, protesting. “I…” he began, searching wildly for a lie. A good lie, a bad lie, an obvious lie—any lie would do. He’d never been particularly good at coming up with lies. That had been James and Sirius’ job. They came up with the stories and Remus and Peter had supported whatever they said. Sirius had tried to teach him to lie once. Always stick as close to the truth as you can. Makes it easier to remember. And don’t offer anything you don’t have to. Just answer the question. Question. The question had been what he was keeping from her.
“Is he in trouble that I don’t know about?” McGonagall asked.
“Who? Sirius?” Startled out of his desperate search for a lie, Remus was caught off guard by the question and responded before he thought about it.
“Sirius?” McGonagall repeated. “What about Sirius?”
Remus scrubbed a hand over his face. “Stop,” he said. “What are you talking about?”
“Severus,” she replied. “And why you’re so concerned about him.”
The ringing in his ears subsided slowly, and the bile that had been rising in his throat began to settle. Of course she didn't know anything. “I’d be concerned about anyone,” Remus replied. “Really, we’re not fifteen anymore.”
She nodded, still studying him. “I don’t think that the old grudge has lessened at all in Severus’ heart.”
“No,” Remus replied with a slight snort. “It hasn’t.” He knew that first hand. Actually, when he thought of it, it had lessened to some extent. Severus was able to put aside his differences every now and again and be civilized, which he’d never done when they were teenagers. They’d even spent the first part of their first shared shift without any barbs flying. In fact, they’d spent hours working in close proximity the year that Remus had been at Hogwarts. Staff meetings, shared meal times, a few minutes here and there in the staff room—no one could have mistaken the two of them for friends, but there had been none of the blatant animosity for the most part. For his part, Remus knew he’d mellowed as he grew older, and without the antagonism of Sirius and James, there might not have been animosity between Severus and Remus at all. “Actually, Severus’ quarrel was never with me. I was part of it only to the extent that I was friends with James and Sirius.”
“What was the quarrel, anyway?” she asked.
Remus snorted. “I don’t think it was even their quarrel, come to think of it. I think it was a quarrel between their families. They were just determined to hate each other as far as I could tell.”
“They succeeded admirably.”
“Yes,” Remus replied, his mind beginning to wander back to their school days. If he wanted to assign blame for everything that had happened, he knew that there was more than enough to go around. “And I hated him just because James and Sirius did. I suppose that means I had an even worse reason than them.”
“Most teenage passions lack convincing reasoning,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You don’t hate him now, and that’s the important thing.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t hate him.”
For a moment, they walked in silence, and when he looked at her again, she was staring at him with that same discerning expression as before.
“Now what?” he asked.
“There’s still the matter of whatever you were keeping from me,” she pointed out. “And I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with Severus.”
“But it is something,” she asked.
Remus shook his head. She was much better at hearing what wasn’t said than he was at misdirecting her. “We had another quarrel,” he said at last. “Wednesday morning when we were on duty.”
“About what?” McGonagall asked, and when he gave her a level look, she shrugged. “I’m a nosey old bat.”
He snorted. “I was apologizing for a previous quarrel,” he said after a hesitation. Stick as close to the truth as you can. “And…”
“And you didn’t back off when he said to drop it,” she finished for him. “That man doesn’t know how to apologize, and he doesn’t know how to accept an apology. So now you’re hoping he doesn’t get himself killed before you have the chance to apologize for apologizing?”
He grimaced. When she put it like that it sounded even more stupid. “Do you have any advice, then?”
“What were you quarrelling about initially?” she asked, and if there's been a brick wall nearby, he would have banged his head against it. About the time he managed to evade her questions, he pointed her right back down the very path he’d just steered her away from.
“It’s a bit personal,” he said at last, conceding that much and hoping she’d respect that he didn’t want to discuss it. The tactic seemed to work, because she nodded.
“Very well,” she replied. “I won’t press you. If you’d like to talk, though, I don’t mind listening.”
Just for a moment, for the space of a heartbeat, he considered it. He did want to talk about it in a way. He wanted someone to reassure him that this was normal. That it didn’t make him depraved and reprehensible. He supposed that when it came down to it, that was the problem in a nutshell—his fear that that would be the verdict outweighed his hopes that it would not. They rounded a corner and began heading east along the street two blocks to the north of Harry’s house. They were almost halfway down the block before he made up his mind.
“Have you ever wanted someone who was out of reach?” he asked.
A look of effrontery crossed McGonagall’s eyes, but it was soon replaced by a slightly nostalgic expression. “Who hasn’t?” she asked. “Is that what this is about? Someone’s caught your fancy?”
An embarrassed smile lifted the corners of his lips. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s a good way to put it. Someone has caught my fancy.”
“And why do you think she’s so far from reach?” she asked, and he raised his eyebrows at her assumption. He let it go for the moment, not interested in correcting it yet. Maybe not ever.
“The response I got was pretty clear,” he replied. “In fact, I don’t think it could have been spelled out any more clearly.”
“Are you giving up just like that then?”
“I haven’t decided.”
“Well, don’t,” McGonagall said. “She obviously just doesn’t realize how lucky she is to have attracted your attention.”
Remus snorted and they walked in silence for a few more houses.
“Who is she?” McGonagall asked after a moment. “Anyone I know?”
Remus nodded. “Definitely someone you know,” he said.
He glanced at her again and couldn’t help chuckling. Her eyes were sparkling to rival Dumbledore’s and the smile on her face was genuine, transforming her severe features, and the stray thought crossed his mind that she must have been beautiful before she learned that stern expression. The amusement at her expression faded as he realized that now he had to answer her, one way or the other. He could lie, he supposed, but even considering it, a voice in his head began whispering scornfully. If you didn’t want to tell her, why did you bring it up?
“It goes no further, correct?” he asked.
“Of course,” she replied, looking anxious and impatient.
He hesitated again, doubting the wisdom of this. It was a little late to be worrying about it, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to admit it. Not yet. But having opened this can of worms, he wasn’t sure he could avoid it now. And if you can trust anyone, you can trust her. He knew that. It hadn’t been necessary to exact a promise of silence from her; that had been a delaying tactic on his part. He was a bit more concerned about what she might think of him, but he had no real fear that she would spread gossip.
“It’s Severus,” he whispered.
“Where?” she asked, looking around, and it took him a moment to realize that she had missed his point. He touched her arm and looked at her for a minute, feeling his face reddening.
“It’s Severus who caught my eye,” he elaborated.
The play of emotions across her face was a shifting kaleidoscope. A blank look of incomprehension was replaced by a surprised expression which faded into wide-eyed shock before settling into an uncomfortable look. A faint blush pinkened her cheeks. “Oh,” she said, looking away.
For his part, Remus felt raw and exposed, like he’d just been caught with a dirty magazine in one hand and his swollen cock in the other. He dropped his eyes to the pavement, wondering what the hell he’d been thinking to bring this up. McGonagall’s reaction was no worse than he’d expected, perhaps even a little better than he’d anticipated. It wasn’t what he was hoping for though. He didn’t really know what he was hoping for.
The silence was beginning to grow awkward, and Remus cleared his throat. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have kept that to myself.”
“No! Not at all,” she protested. “It was just something of a shock. I hadn’t pegged you for… that is, I didn’t realize you were…”
“I’m not,” he replied, then his face contorted into an expression of confusion. “I wasn’t. I never have been. Does this mean I am?” He hadn’t meant to ask that, but having opened the floodgates to his secret, his words weren’t coming with a measured care anymore.
“I’m really not the person to…” McGonagall trailed off, frowning a bit. “I don’t know,” she said after a pause. “I don’t suppose I ever thought about it. I guess I always assumed that it was a black and white matter, that one was born with the predisposition… That sounds preposterous when I say it. I don’t know, Remus.”
He nodded, understanding much better than she probably gave him credit for. They walked in silence a little longer.
“Is Severus…?” she began, trailing off again. It was beginning to grate at his nerves a bit that she wouldn’t finish that sentence.
“Is he gay?” Remus asked, and her expression tightened a bit. “I don’t think so.”
“Is that what your quarrel was about?”
After a minute, he nodded. She reached for his hand and patted it. He gave her hand a grateful squeeze in return. “So what’s your advice now?” he asked.
“Earlier, you said not to give up. That was when you thought that the object of my attention was a woman, though. Are there different rules in this game?”
McGonagall’s eyes widened a bit, and she drew a deep breath. “Do you have any idea how many questions you just raised?” she asked.
He snorted. “I think I have an idea. Is there a difference between pursuing a woman and pursuing a man? If I can sit down across the table from another man and suddenly have a sexual interest in him, can that happen to just anyone? Am I supposed to act like a man, or like a woman? I can’t picture myself as a woman.”
This time she snorted. “I can’t either,” she replied dryly. “And those are excellent questions. However, I was thinking more along the lines of ‘is it somehow more acceptable for a man to pursue a disinterested woman than for him to pursue a disinterested man?’”
Remus blinked. “I hadn’t even of that one,” he muttered. If the interest in question were a female, he wouldn’t have thought twice about attempting to change her mind. He didn’t normally think of himself as holding double standards, but at the same time, this seemed a rather inescapable one now that McGonagall had pointed it out. Was he saying that what a man wanted was somehow more important than what a woman in the same position wanted? Did gender have anything to do with the question, or was it a question of sexuality? If he were interested in a woman who thought she only wanted a man who was dark, he wouldn’t bemoan his fate for being attracted to a woman who had no interest in him. Was this situation really all that different?
“Are you standing at a line, or have you already crossed it?” she asked, startling him out of his thoughts. He frowned at her. “Or is there a line at all?”
He mulled that over for a few minutes, then added another question. “How does one go about catching a man’s eye, anyway?”
McGonagall laughed. “Now that’s one I can answer,” she replied. “Men are very easy.” He frowned, thinking he might be offended at that until he saw the sparkle in her eyes again as she continued. “You stroke his ego and his private bits in equal proportion.”
He guffawed loudly, and slapped a hand over his mouth. “Somehow,” he gasped between muffled chortles, “I don’t think he’d appreciate that tactic.” When he’d regained his composure, he cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Seriously,” he began, “if I were going to pursue him, would you have any advice?”
She was quiet as they passed Privet Drive again, peering down the street to number four. Petunia Dursley was out in the front garden, frowning at a hydrangea bush. The house seemed normal.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose that if I were trying to interest a man like Severus in me, I’d find excuses to be alone with him, and then prove what a witty conversationalist I am. Be a friend to him. Perhaps plant the suggestion that if he wanted more, I’d be willing, but assure him that even if nothing other than friendship ever comes of it, I’d be happy. He doesn’t trust easily,” she added. “It will be much more difficult to regain his trust if you lose it than it will be to earn it the first time, and earning it the first time isn’t going to be a walk in the park.”
“Tell me about it,” Remus muttered, then sighed. “How does one go about earning his trust?”
She was quiet for a moment, then shrugged. “Defend him,” she suggested. “The next time he and Sirius are bickering, take Severus’ side.”
Remus made a face. “I’ve been trying not to take sides at all,” he pointed out.
“I know,” McGonagall said. “And that’s admirable, and probably for the best in a broad sense. But to win Severus Snape, I think it would go a long way if you called Sirius down. Even if he protests, he’ll notice.”
The idea of siding against Sirius was one that held little appeal for him, and it raised yet another question—was he willing to risk a friendship for a chance at… at whatever it was that he stood to gain from Severus?
Severus Apparated into an alleyway, glancing around, more apprehensive than he preferred to admit. It was one thing to skulk around at night, under the cover of darkness, but in broad daylight it was another matter all together. He looked both ways before emerging from the alley.
“Severus?” The voice behind him made him jump and he whirled around, already withdrawing his wand from the makeshift pocket on his trouser leg. After the embarrassing debaucle Wednesday night, he’d spent some time practicing withdrawing his wand from that awkward position. He sighed and resheathed it as he realized that he was face to face with Minerva.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that,” he muttered, folding his arms across his chest. He glanced around. “Who am I relieving?”
“No one,” Minerva replied, leaning against the wall. In her tweed suit, with her hair pulled back in a low bun, she did not look the sort to be loitering in an alley. “Those two halfwits were drawing attention in the market. I sent them both home.”
“Which two halfwits?” Severus asked. Halfwit could describe any number of the Order members in his opinion.
“Mundungus Fletcher and Dedalus Diggle,” she replied. “Diggle actually spoke to Harry.”
Severus winced. “He didn’t recognize him, did he?” He couldn’t imagine Harry Potter had ever had reason to come into contact with Dedalus Diggle.
“I think he recognized him as a wizard, though it’s hard to get a straight answer out of either of them. And Mundungus Apparated in plain sight. Those two! I can’t imagine a more incompetent pair. Neither of them should be out without a guardian of his own.” She smoothed her tweed skirt with an irritated brush of her hand, then glanced out onto the street again.
Severus stifled a yawn and closed his eyes. It was hot, he hadn’t slept four hours last night, he had a raging headache courtesy of Lucius’ VSOP Cognac and this was the first of three shifts he was going to be covering in the next twenty-four hours, one of which was going to be with Lupin. Nothing could have left him with a more sour taste in his mouth, unless it was to be reminded that he'd brought it upon himself. He sighed.
“How was your evening last night?” Minerva asked.
“Splendid,” Severus muttered. “I’ve nothing better to do than to sit and listen to Lucius Malfoy regale me with his accounts of the magnificence of his ancestors.” In all honesty, the evening hadn’t been all that bad, all considered. There had been a boring half hour in which Severus had nodded politely while Lucius showed him the Malfoy family portraits, a collection of paintings that looked down their collective thin noses at him.
“And what came of it?” she pressed, and he sighed again, massaging the bridge of his nose.
“It would appear that I am officially one of Malfoy’s minions now, and if I behave myself, I might be promoted back to the status of sycophant at the end of the summer.” His lip curled into a sneer. “I suppose this is a lesson. Never burn a bridge unless you’re certain you won’t need to cross the river again.”
She patted his arm, and gestured for him to accompany her through the alleyway. As they emerged into the bright daylight of one of the many streets that all looked the same, Severus peered around, trying to determine just where they were.
“Magnolia Crescent,” she supplied. “Arabella lives on the next street back.”
Severus nodded and ushered her along the sidewalk, a hand resting under her elbow. If he thought anything of how odd he looked in his Muggle clothing that was fit for a boy half his age and escorting such a stern-looking woman, he gave no indication of it.
“So what will be the price of your promotion to sycophant?” she asked, and he smirked.
“Lucius wants Draco’s marks to continue in the excellent and outstanding range…”
“You’re not going to raise his marks!” Minerva said with an indignant gasp.
Severus gave her a level look. “He’s a good student, Minerva. I don’t have to raise his mark. His father is merely too preoccupied to notice it.”
Minerva frowned, but nodded. “I suppose so.”
“Lucius is so accustomed to buying everything he wants that he seems to forget that it is possible to earn it.” Severus shook his head. “Not important. The point being that so long as Draco continues to take home the marks he’s been earning in my class for the past four years, Lucius will think that I am submitting to his wishes. He also wants me to report regularly regarding any changes in the school that will benefit the Muggleborn students over the Purebloods and he suggested that he will be using me as an excuse to visit the school more often. Old chums, you realize.”
Minerva raised an eyebrow. “In other words, he wants you to be his toady around Hogwarts and to tattle on the rest of us?”
“In a word, yes.”
She smiled. “Well, Albus and I will simply have to see that we give you plenty to tattle about.”
He smirked and they walked in silence for a few minutes. “Do you think this will get you back into…You-Know-Who’s good graces?” she asked.
“Hardly,” Severus muttered. “But in the short term I will settle for it keeping me alive. And, if I get back into Malfoy’s good graces, then he will begin to give me some of the assignments that the Dark Lord gave him—Lucius will do anything to get out of doing any actual work. Word will reach the Dark Lord that I’m carrying out his business, even if it is through Lucius, and that might get me back into his good graces.”
“Be careful,” Minerva urged him, and he shrugged. He was always a little uncomfortable when presented with evidence that someone gave a damn about him
“I’ll be successful,” he replied, stifling another yawn.
“I’m not the only one who worries about you, you know.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m aware that the headmaster has a certain concern.”
“He cares about you, Severus, and don’t look at me like that. It’s more than the general way he cares about everyone on staff. And I wasn’t talking about him anyway.”
That took him by surprise. It was on the edge of his tongue to ask who, but he bit the question back—he didn’t want to seem interested. Even if he was.
“Remus, for example,” Minerva said, and Severus nearly tripped over his own feet.
“I’m sure he cares,” Severus replied. “He’d love to see me fall on my face, and he’d be thrilled to discover my position with Malfoy.”
“He cares more than you give him credit for,” Minerva retorted. “He specifically asked about you this morning.”
Severus snorted. “Did he?” he asked.
For some reason, the idea of Lupin asking after him invited a smile to his lips. It was an invitation he denied, but it wasn't one he could ignore. There was an uncustomary warmth seeping through his veins, something comforting, like a warm blanket on a cold night. For several moments, they walked in silence, giving his swirling, colliding thoughts a chance to merge and form themselves into more coherent wholes.
Remus Lupin. For the past several days, Severus had been unable to escape the fact that Remus Lupin had made a pass at him. It had been uncomfortable, and unexpected, but not wholly unpleasant if he were honest, and provided he acknowledged that every word from the moment Lupin had knocked on the bathroom door had been a part of the failed seduction. He was used to stiffening and jerking away from touches, not to relaxing under them. As had often happened since that evening, Severus found himself rolling his shoulders, a part of him longing for the soothing and comforting hand that had massaged his back on Saturday night.
If Lupin were here, I’d let him kiss me.
The thought came out of nowhere, and it made him stumble, which put a scowl on his face. What a preposterous, ridiculous, absurd thing to think. He put the thought from his head.
“And what business is it of Lupin’s anyway?” he asked, and Minerva gave him an odd look.
“He’s a compassionate man who cares about everyone in the Order. Even ungrateful halfwits.”
He directed a scowl at her, though she didn’t seem to notice it. They walked in silence for several minutes more and he had plenty of time to ruminate her possible meanings. Ungrateful halfwit? Try as he might, he could think of nothing to have prompted such a slur from her. He had his moments of idiocy—everyone did—and perhaps there were times when he was not as demonstrative as he could be in his appreciation for others. It wasn’t a lack of gratitude. He just didn’t wander around patting everyone on the back and offering warm embraces. It wasn’t his style.
No, the more he thought about it, the more difficult it was to believe that the comment had been either off-hand or a generalization. Someone had to have said something, and given that they were talking about Lupin, Severus could only imagine what that bloody werewolf might have said.
“What nonsense has he been telling you now?” he asked, and Minerva frowned at him again.
"Lupin," Severus snapped.
“What makes you think he’s been telling me any nonsense at all?” she asked.
“Your comment about ungrateful halfwits,” he replied through clenched teeth. “What did he tell you?”
“What are you afraid he told me?” she challenged, and he folded his arms across his chest with a petulant scowl.
“Nice try,” he muttered, and they walked for a few minutes more.
He could just imagine Lupin whinging to his old teacher about how cruel and unforgiving Severus Snape was. He could almost hear the werewolf moaning about how Severus couldn’t have expected anything else—after all, what innocent reason would a man have for offering to massage an anti-itch salve on another man’s back? Of course he should have known, and he’d allowed Lupin to believe that he stood a chance, only to dash his hopes with one stroke of cruelty. Deliberate and menacing. He could just imagine Minerva nodding in sympathy.
“He was lying,” he said, and she gave him an odd look again.
“What on earth are you talking about?” she asked.
“Lupin!” he sneered. “Whatever he told you, it wasn’t true.”
She was quiet for a moment, then gestured towards the park. He hesitated, then followed her, and they settled on a bench beneath a tree. “Is everything all right, Severus?” she asked. “I’m getting the rather distinct impression that something is bothering you. Something to do with Remus.”
“Why would anything about him be of any concern to me?” Severus asked, and she looked at him.
“Because you’ve mentioned him no less than four times in the past half hour. Rather remarkable for someone you purportedly hate.”
“I do hate him.”
Severus was about to insist that of course he did, but he decided against it. It would be a lie anyway. “I dislike him intensely.”
He stared at her for a moment, unwilling to believe that even after all these years she was so blinded by the charms of her precious Gryffindor students that she could not see what they were capable of. “I’m not even going to grace that with a response,” he said at last.
“I know that you have every reason to associate him with a number of the miseries in your past,” she said, “but why dislike him so now? Has he been anything but kind in the past few years?”
“As a colleague, he was irresponsible and careless,” Severus replied through clenched teeth. “And now he is presumptuous and…”
“What did he presume?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You said he is presumptuous. How so?”
He bristled and folded his arms across his chest again. “He just is,” he snapped.
“Did he offend you in some way?” she asked. “Has he hurt you?”
“I am beyond the age where I run tattling to others,” he said.
“Is that because when you were a child, we fostered the impression that seeking our help would do no good?” she asked.
He wavered for a moment. Yes, that was part of it. He’d learned to solve his own problems rather than seeking help or advice. He didn’t want to discuss it, though. “There is nothing to tell,” he said at last. “We have our differences, but it is nothing we can’t resolve on our own.” She nodded. He wished she would say something. After several minutes of silence, he cleared his throat. “What did he say?”
She looked at him, her sharp eyes discerning and calculating. After a moment, she patted his arm. “He said that he wished he knew how to make you see beyond past mistakes,” she replied. “I believe he would rather count you among his friends than his enemies.”
Severus sneered. “Not likely,” he muttered.
“Have you given him a chance, Severus?” she asked. “Have you truly considered him, as an adult? He is not the same boy who was part of the taunting and teasing when you were in school together. Mightn’t you consider giving him the opportunity to prove that he is more than his past suggests?”
For a moment, he just looked at her. “Like the chance Dumbledore gave me?” he asked.
She smiled a bit and nodded. “Precisely,” she replied. “Doesn’t he deserve—“
“Bugger off, Minerva,” he snapped. “Will you never learn that I’m not that easy to manipulate?” He stood and straightened his baggy shirt irately.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “You’re absolutely right. I should have simply come out and said it. I think you’re being unreasonable, Severus. You’re a grown man, as is he. Act like it. And I don’t think it would hurt anything for the two of you to sit down and have a civilized conversation. You might actually learn something about each other.”
She stood as well and walked a few steps away. When he moved to follow her, she waved her hand at him. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she said. “I’m going to check on the house.” He frowned after her, watching as she disappeared behind the bushes. A few minutes later, a gray tabby cat emerged, tail held stiffly in the air and ignoring him as she walked past.
Severus sank onto the bench again, watching the arched tail disappear around a corner, leaving him to mull over his thoughts once more. It didn't surprise him that they returned to Remus Lupin and the possibility of taking Minerva’s advice.
But only if he could think of a way to do it that would not seem as though he were taking her advice. The woman was insufferable enough without thinking that she could manipulate him so easily.
He glanced at his watch. Just past five. Between Lupin, the Dark Lord and guarding Harry Potter, this was turning out to be one of the longest, shittiest summers he’d ever endured.
A/N: Okay, so I don’t usually do authors’ notes, but I felt the need this time. The comment about minions and sycophants was inspired by a comment someone made in her LJ. It just had to creep in here.