Mid-way through Friday morning I discovered that students who had witnessed my argument with the Potions Master had dubbed me "The Anti-Snape", a title I proudly accepted after seeing how horrible he had been to Neville.
It was soon apparent however that Snape himself did not find my title very amusing. While he said nothing, he glared at me furiously the few times we saw each other in the corridors or at meal time in the Great Hall.
As the afternoon drew to a close and the final dismissal bell rang, I sat down at my desk and gave a contented sigh. I had made it through my first week...not that I had any doubts that I would, although Lockhart's unwanted attention and Snape's hostility were not things I had been prepared to deal with.
Looking toward the window, I thought it was far too lovely an afternoon to stay indoors and decided to take Ashlar out for a run. Locking up the classroom I cheerfully went down the stairwell and headed down the corridor that led to my personal chambers. Before I had gone very far, I noticed Lockhart coming from the opposite direction. In no mood to deal with his vanity, I stepped close to the wall and knelt down next to a statue of a strict looking witch. Peeking around the statue's stone robes, I gave a sigh of relief as Lockhart disappeared into one of the classrooms.
"Oh, this is so silly." I grumbled to myself.
Then as I was about to straighten up, I became aware that someone had come down the corridor behind me and was now standing next to the statue that I was kneeling against. I didn't have to raise my eyes to identify the person in the flowing black robes.
"Tiring of your admirer's attention already?" asked Snape as he glared down at me. "How surprising. I was under the impression that you lived to be adored and worshiped by all who cross your path."
Climbing to my feet, I retorted, "And I was under the impression that you spent most of your time down in the dungeons, yet every time I turn around, there you are." Scowling, I crossed my arms and added, "If this persists everyone will be under the impression that we are in love."
"Perish the thought!" he replied snidely as he continued his walk down the corridor.
Watching him go I muttered to myself, "If Lockhart doesn't drive me batty, then Professor Snape will."
Now greatly annoyed, I continued down the corridor until I reached my personal chamber. Once inside, I changed into my riding clothes and then left the castle to go visit with Ashlar at his paddock. The giant, black horse snorted resentfully as I approached the fence.
"I'm sorry I haven't been out to see you sooner, my friend." I smiled as I offered him the apple that I had stolen from the kitchen. "It's been a busy week. Forgive me?"
After accepting my offering, Ashlar shoved his head against me and nickered playfully letting me know that all was forgiven. He pawed the ground and began tossing his head indicating that he had been in the paddock long enough and wanted a change of scenery.
"Alright then." I laughed as I opened the paddock gate and fastened a long lead rope to the horse's halter. "Come on."
With neck arched and ears perked forward he stood still while I grabbed a fist full of mane and vaulted onto his bare back. He was delighted not to be saddled and took of at a cheerful trot. He seemed particularly interested in the students that could be seen here and there around the school grounds. The weather was still very much like summer and it was not uncommon for students to spent their late afternoons outdoors until it was time to go to the Great Hall for supper. Aware of the cautious looks, I steered the horse well away from the children until I was sure how Ashlar and the students would respond to each other. As far as I could tell, the horse had merely been curious about them and seemed far happier than he had been while at my house with only the birds for company.
After spending a few minutes letting the horse run off some of his energy, I slid down from his back, gave him a few feet of the lead rope and allowed him to graze. From time to time he would raise his head, watch the students and then once again return to grazing. He didn't appear to be anymore bothered by the activity around him than Hagrid's boar-hound Fang. We spend the early part of the evening quietly walking around the grounds.
I was almost ready to return the horse to the paddock when I became aware that a small group of students had quietly approached and were now standing at a respectful distance. One I recognized immediately as Harry Potter but I kept my thoughts to myself. He was likely getting tired of everyone immediately commenting about the scar on his forehead and how much he looked like his father except for his mother's eyes.
Instead I smiled at the group as a whole and said, "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon." replied one of the girls in the group who had long bushy brown hair. "Is that an Azkaban horse?"
Placing my hand on Ashlar's neck I answered, "Yes it is."
After a moment of silence the other girl in the group who was a few years younger and had long red hair asked hesitantly, "Aren't you afraid of him hurting you?"
As though insulted, Ashlar raised his huge black head and snorted. Shaking his head so that his forelock fell over his eyes, he returned to grazing as though to say, "This ignorant child isn't worth my time!"
I laughed softly and said, "No, although I admit the first time I saw him I assumed he had a foul temper." Ashlar raised his head again and pushed me with his nose as I added, "I know he looks dark and sinister, but all he needed was someone to allow him to show his true nature. It's surprising what you can find out about a person...or a horse...once you give them a chance." Taking a few steps towards the students I asked, "Would you like to pet him?"
Harry and the red headed boy in the group both looked mortified at the very suggestion but after a moment's hesitation both girls came forward and reached up to touch Ashlar's extended nose. He nickered playfully and swished his heavy black tail, obviously loving the attention.
"He's so soft." whispered the red headed girl.
"Yes he is." I agreed. "That's because he loves to be brushed and cleaned up. Ashlar is a bit of ham as you can see."
Indeed he was posing for the students as he arched his sleek black neck and perked his ears forward as though he were being presented to have his portrait painted. Sensing that the students were far weaker than he was, the horse refrained from pawing the ground or tossing his head.
"I thought he looked scary at first." the brown haired girl commented as she gazed into Ashlar's glowing red eyes. "But now meeting him, he is so beautiful."
Eventually the two boys overcame their intimidation and also stepped forward to pet Ashlar who was now looking as though he were having the time of his life. After a few more minutes the four students politely wished both my horse and I a good evening before heading towards the castle for supper.
Placing Ashlar back in his paddock I un-clipped his lead rope and smiled, "That wasn't so bad was it? Once they get to know you they'll wonder how they could have ever thought of you as something dark and scary."
Disinterested, the horse stepped away from me and directed his attention to the fresh hay that Hagrid had placed inside the paddock while we were gone. With a sense of accomplishment that I had my first week as a teacher behind me, I walked contently back to the castle.
I spent Sunday morning working on a painting on my classroom's balcony. Shortly before I had received word that I was being considered for a teaching position at Hogwarts, I had begun work on the palomino Abraxan mare and foal that now galloped across the canvas.
At two o'clock I climbed the tall spiral staircase the led to Dumbledore's office. Entering the room I saw that Fawkes' perch was empty but on the platform beneath it was a pile of ashes where a tiny featherless bird nested.
"Ah, a fledgling again." I commented as I crossed the office and glanced through the door that led to my grandfather's personal chambers.
"Yes, he burst into flames on Friday evening." said my grandfather in a matter-of-fact tone. The old wizard was in the process of placing a teapot and a couple of cups on a small-end table that was placed near two wing-back chairs. "Have a seat, my dear."
"Thank you." I smiled as I sank comfortably into one of the chairs.
My grandfather taking the other chair, filled the cups then handed one of them to me. Sitting back in his chair, he took a sip of tea then smiled as he asked, "Have you been able to keep yourself busy this weekend?"
Nodding I answered, "That hasn't been a problem at all. In fact I should probably enjoy my free time while it lasts."
"Very true." Dumbledore replied. "As the term progresses you'll find the paper-work alone difficult to stay ahead of, but it's all worth it."
"I'm sure." I smiled as I sipped my tea.
"How are you getting along with the rest of the staff?" asked my grandfather.
After a pause I answered, "Everyone has been wonderful but I tend to still think of Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick as my teachers. It seems odd to call them by their first names and be considered one of their peers."
"Perfectly natural, after all you have only been here a week. You will adjust." Dumbledore smiled.
"That's what Hagrid said." I commented.
"And he's right. You'll see." the old wizard chuckled. He paused a moment then inquired, "Then all is well between you and your colleagues?"
"For the most part." I answered. After hesitating a moment I said, "Could I ask you a question?"
"Of course you can." he answered, his blue eyes studying me.
"With all due respect, why Gilderoy Lockhart?" I asked.
Laughing, Dumbledore answered, "He is knowledgeable in his own way and was quite eager to educate young minds. Have you read any of his books?"
"I've read Voyages With Vampires, and frankly I found it all a bit hard to swallow, especially having met him. Forgive me, I know that's unkind...I just have trouble seeing Professor Lockhart doing all the things that he has claimed to do." I replied.
"You always were rather difficult to impress." said Dumbledore as he took another swallow of tea. Studying me carefully he asked, "Am I correct in assuming that you are not...shall we say...receptive...to his efforts to get your attention?"
"You noticed that?" I said softly as I felt myself blush.
With a warm smile Dumbledore answered, "My dear, I believe everyone has noticed that."
"I'm sure he's a good person, but, the way he goes on about himself is...well...tiresome." I said as I lowered my eyes to my cup. Smiling I added, "So if you are trying to find out if I'm swooning over him the way ever other witch in the world is, the answer is no."
Finding my comment amusing, Dumbledore laughed outright nearly dropping his cup.
"And the lady has spoken." he exclaimed cheerfully as he poured himself more tea. Looking towards me he asked, "More?"
"Yes, thank you." I answered leaning forward slightly.
On our second cups, my grandfather again relaxed in his chair and rested his kind eyes on me as he said, "Now....Severus."
"What about him?" I inquired.
"Have the two of you managed to resolve your...differences?"
With a sigh, I answered, "For the past few days we've managed to stay out of each others way and I think that's the best we can hope for. I really don't think I'll ever be able to get along with Professor Snape."
"How can you be so sure after only one week?" asked Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye.
"Grandfather, the man is impossible!" I exclaimed.
"He said the same thing about you." Dumbledore replied casually.
My eyes widened as I said, "He spoke with you about me?"
"Well the other day we talked briefly about that confrontation the two of you had outside your classroom. Naturally I wanted to make sure that there wasn't anything happening that would interfere with either of you living up to your responsibilities as teachers." my grandfather explained.
"He said I was impossible?" I asked indignantly.
"He said you were not receptive to advice he was giving you regarding a student that he has been teaching for the last year." my grandfather explained with a hint of amusement in his voice.
"Why that.....that's not it at all. He was bullying that student. There was no reason for Professor Snape to come and say what he did!" I retorted.
Dumbledore said seriously, "Some of the students need a firm hand. In fact you would be wise to take some of what Severus tells you under advisement. Perhaps an evening this week you should sit with him during supper."
"Sit with him?" I repeated, hardly believing my ears.
My grandfather nodded and said, "Yes, sit with him. He has been a teacher at Hogwarts for a number of years and has a great deal of knowledge about his profession. I think you should listen to what he has to say."
"So far all Professor Snape has done is insult me!" I said heatedly.
"Are you sure he was insulting you? Perhaps he was only offering some constructive criticism." suggested Dumbledore.
"Calling me 'Dumbledore's Darling' is not constructive criticism!" I protested. Seeing my grandfather's reaction I added, "I can't believe you find this amusing!"
"Well I'm sorry, Gwen, but I thought the name was cute." Dumbledore laughed softly.
"Professor Snape didn't call me that to be cute! He said it to be snide!" I stated firmly.
"Perhaps he was just trying to make conversation."
"I don't think so. He keeps implying that I don't belong here."
"Then," said my grandfather as he looked over the top of his spectacles at me. "you will have to demonstrate professional behavior and prove him wrong won't you?"
Speechless, I gazed at my grandfather a moment before exclaiming, "You're taking his side!"
"It's not a matter of taking sides." Dumbledore replied. "You are new to the staff and could do a lot worse than following at least some of Severus' examples. Let me finish." he said firmly as he leaned forward slightly. "Gwen, trust me. Give Severus another chance and try not to immediately take offense at anything he might say."
After a moment's pause I said quietly, "Grandfather, I really don't think I can be friends with that man."
"I'm not asking you to." Dumbledore replied. "I am asking you to show some patience and make more of an effort to control your temper. In other words, don't give him things to criticize you for."
With another deep sigh I sat back in the chair and said, "Alright. Perhaps we just got off on the wrong foot during the first week."
Nodding with approval my grandfather turned the subject of the conversation to more trivial topics and as I relaxed in the chair sipping my third cup of tea I thought how good it was to have these wonderful long talks with my grandfather again.
When I was a child, Sunday was always the day he came to visit my parents and I, and he always set aside some time to have tea and conversation with his "Gwen Doll". As I grew older, I came to cherish those Sunday talks and I always came away with a gem of my grandfather's wisdom. In hindsight, I don't believe I could have gotten through my first year of teaching without those talks to advise and guide me.
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