Snape assigned the Fifth Year Gryffindors and Slytherins a truly nasty project (they had the most effective and reliable gossip networks), and they were sure to be scattered across the library that evening, researching away. I made certain I'd seemed on edge all day (not hard, as it was my usual state of being this term), and I slipped away before the end of supper to find a good, "private" nook in the vast, open Reading Room.
I hunched over a table and tried to slog through Hélas, J'ai Transfiguré mes Pieds as the students drifted in in twos and threes.
It was terrible. My God, I thought, over 2,000 years of written literature and this is the best drama they can come up with?
Snape showed up a half-hour later. I kept my eyes plastered to the book, and let tears well up until (thankfully) I couldn't read the words in front of me. Snape prowled about, commenting snidely on each students' choice of research materials. When he swooped down on Neville Longbottom, it was time to go to work.
"Mr. Longbottom, if you think armadillo claw is a constituent ingredient of this assignment, you belong back with the First Years. Furthermore --"
I let out a subtle but distinct sob, and the student murmurs in the room instantly ceased. (Nosy little buggers; we were counting on it.) After a moment's silence, Snape approached me, his heels clicking against the stone floor.
"Professor Hunter." He leaned over my shoulder, and his voice was deadly. "I trust I am providing adequate amusement?"
I took a shuddering breath, and lowered my hands from my forehead. "I beg your pardon," I choked sotto voce. "It's not -- it's nothing --" and I searched frantically through my pockets.
Snape sighed, and produced a handkerchief with an elaborate flourish. "Miss Patil, what are you staring at?" he said in an ominous tone, and turned his attention back to me as several quills skittered across parchment in sudden fits of studiousness.
"You are making a spectacle of yourself, Hunter," he said in an edgy undertone.
"I know -- I --" I rose from the chair and stumbled slightly, tears still streaming down my face.
"Merlin's beard," he spat out under his breath, grabbed my elbow, and marched me toward the door. "I shall return shortly," he announced to the students, and we left.
I had to keep sobbing all the way to my rooms, of course: it wouldn't have done for others to see me more composed. We passed Dumbledore and McGonagall outside the Great Hall, and McGonagall's jaw dropped.
"Miranda -- Severus -- what --?"
"Professor Hunter is a bit distraught, Minerva; I'm simply escorting her to her rooms -- no, I'll see to it," he barked as he waved her off. "A Sleeping Draught should do the trick," and he kept me moving briskly past them. Good thing, too: Headmaster would guess what we were up to, and if I had to look at him, I'd lose it. I was a terrible one for breaking up in performance.
Once safely in my rooms I headed for the bathroom to clean up. "That went as well as could be expected," I observed to Snape over my shoulder.
"Good gods, woman, how could you keep that up for a full ten minutes?" he blurted out, shocked and amused.
I blew my nose, splashed cold water on my face, and stood in the door, toweling my face dry.
"That's rhetorical, surely. You wouldn't still be alive if you couldn't --"
"Schooling my emotions, lying, faking more pain than I actually feel, yes, but sobbing convincingly on cue? No."
I shrugged. "There's various tricks and techniques, of course, but you really just manipulate your own emotions --"
A timid knock on the door interrupted me. Snape swore under his breath and I stepped back into the bathroom, but left the door open as Snape wrenched the sitting room door back open. I could hear everything quite clearly.
"Pr-- Professor Hunter left her notes and pen in the li-- library, Sir --"
"I'll see that she gets them, Longbottom." I heard my papers rustle in the exchange.
Surprisingly, Longbottom didn't scarper.
"Is sh-- she all right, Sir?"
"She will be fine, Longbottom, not that it's any of your concern --"
From the sound of his voice, Snape's quite finite patience was wearing thin: I thought it best to intercede, and stepped back out.
"I'll be fine, Neville, thank you."
His relieved face peered at me around Snape's body.
"I tried to take the book out for you, but Madam Pince wouldn't let me," he said anxiously.
"Thank you. It's quite all right; I shouldn't get anything done tonight, in any case," I said gently, and gave him a wan smile. Snape turned and grimaced at me -- I suppose I was laying it on a little thick, but Longbottom wouldn't notice -- and I had to restrain a sour look back at Snape. "I'll see you in class tomorrow."
"Righto. I hope you feel better --"
"Mr. Longbottom, you cannot afford to waste more time: I suggest you return to the library," Snape said testily. Neville jumped.
"Yes, Pr-- Professor Snape," he muttered, and hurried off down the corridor. Snape watched him go, and then closed and bolted the door.
"Good gods," he muttered in disgust, tossed my papers and pen on the kitchen counter, and leant against the counter edge.
"Are you more peeved with his concern or that he stood up to you?" I asked, making no attempt to hide my amusement.
He snorted and took a look at my notes. "How you could manage to keep a straight face over that piece of excrement --"
I sincerely hope he means the play --
"-- much less write meaningful commentary on it is a mystery to me."
-- good, he did.
"It was depressing. I hope it's not the best wizarding example available," I said as I crossed to the kitchen and poured us each a glass of wine.
"Far from it. I have better examples in my own library: you should borrow them, if you're really interested," he muttered, and took his glass without thanks.
"I will, next time I'm over." It was, after all, a foregone conclusion that there would be a next time.
He sipped at the wine, and seemed pleasantly surprised. "I thought you didn't drink much?"
"I don't, but when I do it might as well be good, now that I can afford it -- poteen excepted, of course," I added with asperity.
"Family history?" he asked rudely, even for him.
I sighed. Things had been going so well...
"No," I replied carefully, "though I believe my grandfather had problems with it. I just didn't think it was good to have around Ian --" I stopped abruptly, and then continued, "his father drank a fair bit; and I still don't think it's wise for me to keep alcohol in any quantity, at the moment."
"No, tobacco is your vice of choice, is it not?" Snape's lips twisted.
"I have to have one," I said lightly. "The gods are jealous of perfection."
That jolted him out of his bad mood: he barked out a short, cynical laugh, and relaxed.
What must it be like to be so on your guard, constantly, that a child's innocent questions put you in a state like this?
"I suppose," Snape's voice cut through my ruminations, "that I may return to the library now."
"Don't think so; you're supposed to brew me up a sleeping draught, remember?"
"True." He settled down on one of the stools at the counter.
"I'd probably take it at this point," I muttered.
"Having trouble --? of course you are," he said irritably. "You wander through the halls with bruises under your eyes. Nightmares?" The clinician in him observed me keenly.
I nodded. "Not every night, but often enough."
"You should have said," he retorted sternly as he rose. "To Pomfrey, if not to me -- a measure?" he asked as he stalked around to the Aga.
"Top right cabinet." He put the kettle on the burner -- eyeing the cooker dubiously as he turned up the flame -- and withdrew several packets from the depths of his topcoat. "The solution seems to be helping; the eye doesn't ache nearly as much, when I'm tired," I volunteered as he gracefully measured and mixed the powders.
"Hmmmph. Too soon to expect any actual improvement; have Pomfrey take a look next month. I'll make you up some packets for this, and write out the instructions," he said matter-of-factly as he poured steaming water over the mixture. "You'll need to be very exact: too much of the active ingredients, and you'll be woozy in the morning."
"Just like a Muggle tranquilizer, then." He snorted at the comparison. "They kept me drugged in hospital... the eventual reaction wasn't pretty, emotionally or physiologically," I admitted.
He digested that in silence, focussed on adding a dollop of honey to the brew. "I'm not unacquainted with the problem," he offered quietly, startling me. "Do you need something for withdrawal?"
"No, the worst of it's over; Molly Weasley got me through it, bless her. I'd needed a minder for a week, so Molly and Arthur took me to the Burrow until I could manage on my own."
Snape thrust the mug into may hands, and I took a sip and grimaced; even with the honey, it was bitter. "I've always hated depending on stuff like this --"
"Don't be stupid." The words were laconic, but lacked his usual bite. He sat and drew his wineglass back over. "Why do you think I carry it with me at all times?"
I wonder how often he has to resort to it.
"Tomorrow you should be a bit late for breakfast," he said brusquely. "I will demonstrate detached concern for the benefit of the High Table --"
"Not too much," I cautioned. "Slow and easy does it. It needs to simmer for a while --"
He snorted appreciatively.
"-- oh, that was appropriate, wasn't it?" I looked down at the mug in my hands suspiciously. "I think it's working."
"Go to bed," he advised, and drained his glass. "You'll fall off quite shortly after you finish it." He rose and headed for the door; I wandered over behind him, already pleasantly sleepy.
He nodded curtly. "I'll bring the ingredients by tomorrow night. Good evening." And he was gone.
I closed and bolted the door, picked up the half-full mug, and toddled off to change for bed.
Quelle suprise, I thought as I settled the covers up under my chin. We managed not to draw blood this time.
Though he... tried....
"You look more composed this morning," he said with the faintest trace of irony. "I trust you slept well?"
"The draught worked beautifully, thank you," I replied serenely. "Oh -- here --" I rooted through my pockets for his handkerchief, neatly pressed and folded. "Thanks for the loan," I said as I handed it him, and Hooch's eyes nearly bugged out. He accepted it without comment, but with a wry twist of his lips, and returned to his seat.
I hadn't warned him I was going to do that. Improvisation: you've got to love it.
Snape didn't. He made certain I knew when he dropped off the packets for the Sleeping Draught that evening.
It was worst in the States at university, where I'd gotten my Bachelors'. Everyone but me, it seemed, was in love with American football. I simply didn't get a thrill from watching several men (each roughly the same build and weight as a large kitchen appliance) trying to do maximum physical damage to a rather smaller man, all for the sake of an inflated pigskin. (Of course there was envy involved. The Theatre Department would have loved a tenth of the attention that the football team received on a regular basis.)
Quidditch was marginally better, in theory, in that skill was more important than sheer physical mass (although try telling that to any Seeker who'd been harassed by one of Slytherin's hulking thugs). It was also worse in that there was significant danger of falling from a considerable height.
Ian had embraced the sport whole-heartedly, and had worked obsessively on his flying in hopes of making the Hufflepuff team. Hooch had even admitted once that he had a good chance. I'd left the Hufflepuff and Chudley Cannons pennants on the walls of his room when I'd packed up his things, only last week: I didn't have the heart to take them down. His clothes and books had been bad enough.
At any rate, guile accomplished what school spirit, or even my nephew's interest, could not: the next brisk Saturday I found myself grumpily marching down to the Quidditch pitch, vacuum flask is tow. I entered the faculty stand and plopped myself down on one of the only two empty seats, on Snape's left.
The other available seat was on his right. Snape-avoidance extended even to Qudditch seating, it seemed.
Thank God Slytherin wasn't playing. I had no wish to learn more wizarding expletives -- 'Merlin's balls' was quite enough for me on aesthetic grounds, and I'd no need to expand my vocabulary of vulgarities either.
"Your play-by-play commentary had better be good," I muttered at Snape, "or I'm leaving for more productive pursuits."
"Not the blood-thirsty type, are we?" he snidely remarked, and took the coffee I offered him without comment and sipped. "I don't think you have anything to worry about tod-- gods, woman," he interrupted himself in shock. "What did you put in this?"
"What do you think?" (I'd been determined to get him to try the poteen somehow.)
He stared at the mug, fascinated -- the way one might be by a poisonous snake -- and then shrugged. "It's not absolutely horrid -- in coffee," he hastened to add. "There are depths to which you'll sink, aren't there?" he noted, voice slightly strained as he sipped again.
"Consider yourself fortunate -- I tried hot chocolate first, and it stank."
Hooch's arrival on the pitch halted our mutual snipeage. As she gave the usual 'good, clean game' speech, Snape leaned over and said, "You do have a grasp of the rudimentary terminology, at least?"
"Seeker-snitch, bludger-quaffle, etcetera -- yes, of course," I said sourly. "Although no one has yet satisfactorily explained the point."
"The point," he replied, with remarkable patience, "is the honing of flying skills. Not to mention fun."
That was a word I never expected to hear from Snape.
And it actually was fun, for the first four minutes, at least: then Fred Weasley and a Hufflepuff Chaser had a mid-air collision, and both fell a good eight metres to the pitch.
"Are they all right?" I asked Snape, voice muffled through my hands; I couldn't bear to watch.
"Chambers... has a broken arm -- too bad for Hufflepuff, she's their strongest player --"
He didn't sound at all sorry about it.
"-- and Weasley... is fine," he spat out in disgust. "Hang on -- his broom's broken; that disqualifies him for the rest of the match," he said smugly.
He was positively gleeful as Pomfrey led the pale, limping Chambers from the pitch, and as Weasley tried to argue Hooch into letting him play with a borrowed broom before, with great disgust, he picked up the remains of his and fled.
Snape's pleasure did not, however, last long. A mere two minutes after the match was resumed Potter had caught the Snitch, setting a new school record and putting Gryffindor well ahead in the Championship.
"Positively indecent," Snape muttered as we left the stand. "Hooch ought to handicap the damned boy."
Potter at fifteen was hardly a boy; but I wasn't about to point that out to Snape in his present mood. I wasn't too pleased, either. Although the shortness of the match blessedly limited the amount of time I had to spend with Snape, it rather ruined the point of our enforced companionship.
Headmaster fixed that for us.
"Miranda! So nice to see you here -- your first match, isn't it?" We turned to greet Dumbledore as he approached, and gave identical shudders: he was looking distinctly mischievous. "A shame it was so short," he added, "but then, it leaves more of the day for other pleasures, doesn't it?"
Damn it, he's going to make this as miserable for both of us as possible....
Snape stiffened and opened his mouth to protest, but I beat him to it.
"I'm afraid I have a lot of papers to mark --"
"Nonsense -- it's Saturday!" Headmaster's voice was warm, but it was clear he wasn't going to be deterred. "You spend far too much time indoors -- she's far too pale, don't you think, Severus? It will do you good to get out. Severus, perhaps you'd be so kind as to take her for a walk at the lake?"
Damn. He'd done it. He was really enjoying it, as well. As there was no doubt it was a direct order, I made the best of it.
In other words, I cravenly put Snape in the hot seat.
"That would be lovely. If Professor Snape can spare the time, of course," I smiled sweetly, and Snape glared at me.
I was going to pay for that, at some point.
"My pleasure," Snape said shortly: to his credit, his voice sounded only slightly strangled.
"Capital! Enjoy the afternoon, then," Dumbledore beamed and toddled off.
Someday I'm going to get you for this, you old rogue, I thought as I watched Dumbledore go. I wonder how many chocolate frogs it would take to thoroughly infest your office?
Snape's impatient cough interrupted my plotting; he was waiting for me to take his arm.
"Why this insistence on the lake?" I asked as we made our way across the lawns.
"I believe," Snape said tersely, "that it is the favoured fair-weather locale for certain... amorous activities."
"The lake is --" I almost shrieked, stopped dead, and composed myself under Snape's steady glare. "The lake is Hogwarts' Lover's Lane?" I hissed as we resumed course.
"Snogger's Lane would be more descriptive, if truth be told," he said grimly.
Forget the frogs; pixies would be more appropriate... now I know why Snape went so pale, when Dumbledore first suggested the lake.
"I believe," Snape continued, "that if you examine some of the older trees near the shore, you'll find liberal graffiti of the 'AD loves so-and-so' variety. Quite an alarming assortment of alumna initials, actually. I doubt," he added ironically, "that he was exaggerating when he said 'many happy hours.' It's a wonder he Completed."
I laughed at that, and Snape looked at me quizzically.
"'There is a man haunts the forest, that abuses our young plants with carving 'Rosalind' on their barks'..." I explained.
"I prefer, 'Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,'" he responded moodily.
"You would," I said, but gently and without cynicism. "You'd ascribe to a more Jaques-like philosophy."
He didn't know how to take the teasing; he looked at me askance but refrained from comment.
"Although," he eventually said, thoughtfully, as we picked up the path down to the shore, "it could be his brother, Aberforth. But I was under the impression he was a confirmed bachelor, even from his school days."
Coming from Hogwarts' most confirmed bachelor (or ineligible, rather, by reason of nearly toxic levels of snarkiness), that was something.
We'd reached the waters' edge, and I stopped to admire the view. It was a rare, clear fall day in the Highlands: the clouds and mountains were reflected back off the surface of the water. It was every bit as impressive as anything Dumbledore could conjure onto the Great Hall's ceiling.
"It's quite beautiful," I murmured. "I think Hogwarts has more than its fair share of spectacular scenery." We stood in silence a moment, drinking it in, and then continued walking along the path.
"Cheer up," I said eventually; Snape's silence was making me nervous. "Maybe we'll catch some snoggers; you can denude half the shoreline."
"No challenge in it anymore," he grumbled. "They will pick the same spots -- the Folly, for example," he added with a nod at the eccentric little structure we were approaching. "And they know better than to do it when I'm about, in any case." I glanced at him, and he distantly answered my unspoken question. "I come here to think. Rather often."
"Well, that wasn't fair of Headmaster," I observed quietly. "Everyone deserves their own private spot; you shouldn't have to share."
Snape considered this a moment, and then allowed as we stepped inside the folly, "It's not entirely unpleasant."
I couldn't have been more shocked if he'd got on one knee and proposed.
We spent a good forty-five minutes in the folly at the lake -- eliciting shocked and worried looks from students who had, it appeared, hoped for snogging time on a lovely Saturday afternoon; and then, coffee and patience exhausted, we went our separate ways.
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I suppose that as a rule lakes don't have shores, but the Hogwarts lake is vast enough to qualify: cf., the Great Lakes definitely have shores, not to mention their own weather patterns.
I would love to know what Aberforth Dumbledore was up to with that goat. "Illegal use of charms," my foot.