Ever since I was a little girl, October had always been my favorite time of year. I loved the sight of the colorful leaves and the feel of the cool, crisp autumn air. It was hard to step outside and not feel invigorated, even though this was technically the period in Mother Nature's cycle when everything was dying and preparing for the season of sleep.
I spent the morning of October first curled up on my window-seat reading. From there I was able to see the Quidditch field and watch the Ravenclaw team practice. Smiling slightly, I thought that someone would have to truly enjoy playing that game to ride their brooms when there was such a sharp chill in the air. Personally, I never used a broom at all if I could help it.
Shortly before lunch-time I set my book aside and stretched, feeling content and accomplished. Dumebledore had said it would get easier once the first difficult month was behind me and he was right. I really did feel like I was ready for anything the remainder of the school year could throw at me.
As I gazed out the window, my eyes fell on Ashlar as he grazed in his paddock. Even from a distance his breed was obvious. Something that I was both relieved and puzzled about was the fact that no one questioned my arrival on an Azkaban patrol horse that was normally only ridden by the hooded Dark Riders.
The riders were similar to Dementors but a bit more "human" for lack of a better term. While not quite as sinister or as dangerous as the Dementors, the Dark Riders were still feared and dreaded. Their giant black steeds were thought to have horrible tempers and would kick or bite at the slightest provocation. According to legend, the Dark Riders were human at one time but had been twisted into something else by a particularly strong and evil form of Dark Magic.
Of course on rare occasions the prison was known for selling their stock, usually if a horse wasn't..to put it simply...mean enough but Ashlar had obviously been a part of their mounted patrol. In fact, I still had his Azkaban saddle and trappings tucked away in a truck in the attic of my manor. All I knew was that the moment his rider had disappeared and I had touched him, he was mine.
Azkaban horses only acknowledge one single rider, which makes them impossible to steal. As long as that rider lives, no one else can ride that particular horse. They will fight, sometimes to the death, to protect their rider, but Ashlar had not shown any reaction when the dark rider that sat in his saddle disappeared in that ugly puff of black smoke and covered the entry way of my house in ashes.
Knowing that I should have stayed inside the house, I had cautiously opened my door and approached the huge black horse, speaking quietly and making no sudden movements. His ears flickered back and forth a few times and he snorted in confusion.
Moving ever so slowly, I had placed my hand on his coal black neck and gently taken hold of his reins. Tossing his head, the horse began pawing the ground and for a moment I thought he was going to throw his vast weight against me....but he didn't.
Looking around to make sure there were no other Dark Riders nearby, I led the horse through the empty paddock next to my house and into the small barn, surprised at how willingly the horse followed me.
Very cautiously, I offered him a carrot which he accepted after a moment's hesitation. Continuing to stroke his neck, I was struck at how beautiful he really was. True he was in great need of grooming, his mane and tail full of tangles but he was certainly not the demonic creature that Azkaban horses were believed to be.
After a while, I removed the prison trappings and placed a halter that had belonged to one of my mother's old horses on his head. Ashlar never moved as I clipped on a lead rope and tethered him to the grooming post. He looked at me a few times in confusion as I began to run the body brush over him but after a while the horse visibly relaxed and obviously enjoyed the attention.
He did however snort a few times in irritation as I worked the comb through his tangled mane and tail. His hooves were also in need of a cleaning. Obviously the Dark Riders did not spend a lot of time making sure that their steeds were groomed properly, which was vital to a horse's health.
I spent a great deal of time with Ashlar that night, not quite sure what to do with him. I didn't exactly want more Dark Riders coming to my home to retrieve this horse, especially when I didn't know why this horse's Rider had been there in the first place.
The following day, after another grooming session, I climbed onto Ashlar's back, simply because I knew not everyone had a chance to know what it was like to mount an Azkaban patrol steed. In that moment the horse relaxed. He arched his neck and swished his tail. In his mind he again had a rider and that was all that mattered to him. From then on he was more like a big, black over-grown puppy than a battle trained war steed.
Smiling at him from my window, I knew that technically I was a horse thief but I couldn't bring myself to give him back to that awful prison, especially now when I saw how happy he was. I honestly believed that sending Ashlar back would break his heart. So far no one had come looking for him and no one had questioned his presence.
Thinking that it was silly to spend such a splendid day indoors, I changed into my riding clothes. The countryside always looked more beautiful when seen from a horse's back.
"Good afternoon, Gwen." Dumbledore greeted me warmly when I arrived at his office. "You're looking particularly cheerful."
With a smile I replied, "I feel good."
"I'm glad to hear it." Gesturing towards my usual chair he said, "Well, come in, my dear. Have a seat."
Once we had each settled into a chair and filled our tea-cups, Dumbledore sat back and asked, "So tell me, what has uplifted your spirits?"
"Oh...a number of things." I answered as I sipped my tea. "When I turned the calendar and saw that I had actually made it through an entire month....I don't know. I guess I found it encouraging, as though I felt that if I made it through September I can get through the rest of the school year as well."
"I see. Is there anything else?" my grandfather inquired curiously.
"No not really....well.." I paused a moment, then continued, "I suppose I have finally learned that there are other ways of dealing with conflict besides...throwing a tantrum."
Dumbledore laughed softly as he added some sugar to his tea. "I discovered a long time ago that much can be accomplished with a soft answer."
"Plus thinking things out before I act." I grinned. "That made a difference too."
Looking at me fondly he said, "Is it safe to assume that there will not be any more...incidents?"
Blushing, I shook my head and said, "I have no intention of allowing things to escalate out of control again."
Studying me closely he asked, "And how are things between you and Severus?"
Pondering a moment, I answered, "Well we're not friends by any means....actually he hasn't spoken to me since Thursday evening which I suppose is a good thing."
"To be honest with you, Gwen, I'm sorry you feel that way." said Dumbledore quietly.
"Why is that?" I asked. "If we're not speaking, then we're not fighting."
"As I said before, most of the staff is older than both of you...I had hoped that perhaps the two of you could find some common ground." he answered.
"Yes you have mentioned that before." I commented. "Grandfather, why is it so important to you that I get along with Professor Snape?"
Raising his eyes to mine, my grandfather replied, "Because I believe having a friend would do both of you a lot of good."
Smiling slightly I said, "I appreciate thath Grandfather...I do...I just....I really don't think that is going to happen. We can't seem to stand being in the same room with each other."
"Are you sure about that?"
After a pause I answered, "Yes....yes I am. He just so......" my voice trailed off.
Leaning forward my grandfather said seriously, "Gwen, I would like you to try to keep an open mind about Severus and try not to judge him too harshly. You might regret it later."
I honestly could not understand why my grandfather was so protective of the Potions Master but Dumbledore was known for being a good judge of character and I had always trusted him in regards to other things. Obviously he saw something in Snape that I had missed.
"Wellh I'm willing to try if he can stop making such snide remarks to me." I sighed.
In a voice so soft it was nearly a whisper, Dumbledore replied, "Gwen, maybe he simply doesn't know what else to say to you."
With a soft laugh I commented, "You're almost making is sound like that excuse parents give their daughters when the boys at school insult them...'They pick on you because they like you'."
Dumbledore smiled slightly, "Does that seem so impossible?"
"I have looked in his eyes." I exclaimed. "He despises me."
"That's what you see when you look in his eyes?" asked my grandfather.
"Yes I do." I replied. "I see that he can't stand my very existence."
After looking at me in silence for a moment, Dumbledore took a sip of tea, then said, "I'm surprised at you, Gwen. I had thought you were better at reading people than that."
"He glares at me!" I said defensively. "How am I misreading that?"
"Yes, he glares at you...and more or less ignores everyone else." Dumbledore replied with another small smile.
Shaking my head I said, "Alright....since we are starting a new month I'll...I'll try harder to get along with Professor Snape. The next time I see him I will be sure to wish him a good day."
"That's all I ask." the old wizard smiled. Refilling my cup, he asked, "So tell me, how are the Tarot painting assignments coming?"
It was a relief to have the conversation shift off of Snape after all the dreams I had been having about him the previous week and we spent the afternoon talking about classes, the students and the upcoming Quidditch matches. For what it was worth, I had meant it when I agreed to try harder not that I believed it would do any good.
Oh well, I thought to myself, if he didn't respond to my greetings, the only one who would look bad was Snape himself.
There was something about my Thursday afternoon class that made them a pleasure to teach. One quality that made them stand out was that there was almost an even number of students from all four Houses and it was interesting to see interaction between them that might not have otherwise taken place. Nearly all of them had signed up for the following week's trip to the Magical Visual Arts museum and were already asking intelligent and thoughtful questions.
"As I have told the other classes," I said as I stood at the front of the room. "before departure we will all be meeting here immediately after lunch next Friday. The curator will be sending me a Portkey that will take us from outside the school-gates directly to the museum's front doors. Please remember that no cameras will be permitted inside the building."
With that announcement made, I set the students to work on that week's projects and then took a seat at my desk to go through the homework that had just been turned in. A few moments later I was aware of the smell of something burning coupled with a gasp from Neville Longbottom.
Approaching his desk, I saw that the parchment had begun to smoke and blacken where Neville had applied the light red ink he was using.
"Neville, let me see your ink bottle." I said warily.
After he handed it to me, I noticed that the small clear bottle was giving off a sour smell. After removing the lid and making a closer examination of the liquid, I saw right away that the contents of the bottle was not ink at all. Instead it was some sort of potion.
Looking at the student I smiled and said, "It appears that you're trying to work on your drawing with your Potions homework."
"Oh no." he gasped.
"It's all right." I tried to reassure him. "Just get a new sheet of parchment and start over. Truthfully I might have made the same mistake. At first glance this liquid does look like red ink...plus being in the same sort of bottle."
Turning white, Neville said softly, "If my homework is here...that means I gave my ink to...Professor Snape."
A few aisles away, Draco Malfoy laughed snidely.
I replied, "Well....just go downstairs and retrieve your ink bottle and give Professor Snape your potion."
Now trembling, Neville explained in a soft voice, "He said if I made this mistake again I would get detention."
"You've done this before?" I asked, perplexed.
The poor boy nodded miserably. Knowing Snape, Neville's detention would be next Friday and I knew he dearly wanted to go to the art museum. There had to be something I could do to help him get out of this mess.
Turning to the rest of the students I said, "Continue working. We'll be back shortly. Neville, let's go downstairs and see if we can set things right."
Ashen faced, Neville followed me as we went down the staircase that led to the dungeons. Truth be told I didn't believe that Snape would listen to anything I had to say but I hated to see Neville punished for a mistake anyone else could have easily made.
As we reached the bottom of the staircase, we saw the Weasley twins, apparently in the process of putting an enchantment on one of the large gargoyle statues. Seeing me, they immediately pocketed their wands and made a poor attempt to look innocent.
"What are the two of you...Wait, nevermind. I don't want to know." I said tensely. Before they could respond I continued, "Perhaps the two of you could help Neville and I with something."
"Your wish is our command, Professor Archer." Fred replied dramatically.
Keeping our voices low, we approached the potions classroom where Snape was in the middle of a lesson. On the table next to his desk I could see an assortment of small bottles including one that was identical to the flask in my hand.
After making sure with Neville that the identical flask was in fact his ink bottle, I turned to the twins and whispered, "I am going to try to distract Professor Snape...how I don't know. When his attention is diverted I want one of you to go in there and switch the bottles then come right out of there. If we're lucky Neville's homework will be turned in and no one will be the wiser."
"You can count on me, Professor Archer!" George replied as he took the flask.
"Now what am I going to say?" I muttered to myself. "I have nothing to say to him...How am I going to do this?''
Turning to George again, I said, "There won't be a lot of time. Move quickly but quietly and only when he's not looking. Hopefully I can get him to speak with me in his office."
What in the world do you think your doing, Gwendolyn?, I asked myself.
As I entered the classroom, Snape abruptly halted his lecture to the class and glared at me.
Attempting to sound calm I said, "I beg your pardon, Professor Snape but I need to speak with you a moment."
"After the lesson." he snapped as he turned away from me.
"I'm afraid it can't wait that long." I replied as I stepped further into the room and approached his open office door.
"I said, after the lesson." he replied coldly as he stepped toward me.
"Professor Snape, I promise you this will only take a moment." I continued. "If we could just step into your office-"
Glaring at me, he snarled, "Do you think I have nothing better to do than come when you beckon me?"
To my great surprise, George had already come into the room and was making his way along the wall toward the small table, and Snape would very likely turn around at any moment and see him.
Trying to remain calm I persisted, "Please, I would not have come down here if this matter were not important. If you could just-"
"Not now!" he snapped as he started to turn away from me.
What happened next in that moment of panic was not expected by anyone, least of all me. I hesitated for a fraction of a second, amazed at what I was about to do. Before I lost my nerve, I grabbed Snape by the front of his robes and pulled him against me. Throwing my arms around his shoulders I covered his mouth with my own in a long kiss.
No doubt the students were too stunned to notice George as he switched bottles. I'm not sure exactly how long I kept Snape's attention diverted but when I did finally release him he stared at me with a wide-eyed expression of shock.
Taking a few faltering steps backward I said, "Perhaps from now on you'll listen to me when I say I want to speak with you. Good day, Professor Snape!"
Almost tripping on my robes, I fled the room without looking back.
"Upstairs! All of you!" I hissed at Neville and the Weasley twins were looking at me in amazement.
Once we reached the Entrance Hall, I turned to them and said firmly, "No one speaks of any of this or we will all be in trouble. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Professor Archer." the twins answered together as Neville nodded his head.
Crossing my arms, I said, "Alright...all of you go back to your classes. I need to take care of something."
Stepping outside the front doors into the fresh October air, I leaned against the wall feeling greatly disturbed by what I had done. After all this was a man that I detested, who had made life difficult for me almost since the day I arrived. He and I could barely stand the sight of each other, which was what had made what had just happened so disconcerting...but that was not the worst of it.
The most disturbing part of all....was that I liked it.
"If you must continue to do things to make a fool out of yourself, could you at least wait until Friday afternoons so you have the entire weekend to spend in hiding!" I said angrily as I glared at my reflection in the vanity mirror.
As usual the mirror laughed in reply.
"Oh, shut up!" I grumbled as I went to my wardrobe and busied myself with trying to decide which gown to wear that day.
It goes without saying that by supper time the previous evening, every student and staff member had heard about my "attack" on the Potions Master in the middle of his classroom. Lucius Malfoy had asked snidely when we passed in the corridors if he could come to the wedding.
One small comfort was that apparently Snape had no idea that George had been in the room and had switched the bottles so Neville was in the clear. The Weasley twins had sung my praises saying I had gone "above and beyond the call of Gryffindor loyalty."
"But I'm a teacher!" I exclaimed furiously as I put on my earrings. "I shouldn't be pulling these stunts anymore!"
Not that I had ever pulled anything quite like this. What happened yesterday afternoon would not have occurred to Gwen Archer the student.
To make matter worse, I was no longer having dreams about Professor Snape...because he now haunted my waking thoughts. His name was repeated in my mind like a strange, dark mantra. In spite of my embarrassment, I kept thinking about how he had the most fascinating black eyes I had ever seen and why had I not noticed that before.
There is only one thing to do, you know, said the nagging voice in my head. And that is to go downstairs and apologize.
"Oh no, I'm not going down there." I said out loud. "Bad things happen when I go down there."
So you are just going to avoid Professor Snape for the rest of the school year?
"That sounds like a good plan to me!" I exclaimed as I took the brush through my hair.
"Have you always been one to talk to yourself?" asked my mirror. "It's a very bad habit."
"I told you to keep quiet!" I snapped as I threw down the brush and headed for the door.
Just as they did a few weeks ago following my argument with Snape out in the school grounds, the Gryffindor students stood and cheered when I entered the Great Hall for breakfast. No doubt as red as my old House's colors, I crossed the room and took my usual place at the staff table next to Dumbledore.
Barely able to contain his amusement, my grandfather looked at me and said fondly, "You appear to have a talent for causing a great deal of excitement around here."
"It's a gift." I sighed miserably. Turning my eyes towards him I said, "I suppose I'm in trouble for this?"
"No, not at all. Severus hasn't complained." Dumbledore answered.
That surprised me. I would have expected him to have gone straight to the Headmaster and demanded my removal from the castle.
"You probably should give him an explanation, Gwen." my grandfather suggested gently.
"I know." I whispered. Taking a quick glance towards the other end of the table, I noticed that the Potions Master had not come to breakfast...probably to avoid me...and that hurt. Oh, how the thought of that hurt.
As the hours crawled by, I continued to debate with myself if I should in fact go speak with Snape about what happened. It was tempted to just creep off to my room after the final dismissal bell rang but I somehow forced myself to walk down those cold dark stairs to the dungeons.
At least I'm not wearing that silly lace nightgown, I thought to myself when I realized that the scenario was very much like the dreams I had been having.
My stomach full of butterflies, I walked through the empty potions classroom and peered into Snape's office where the Potions Master was seated at his desk. Before I said a word, he raised his black eyes to me.
Almost trembling, I stepped into the room and whispered, "Professor Snape...may I speak with you?"
"I suppose it would be in my best interest to say yes." he answered coldly.
Wincing, I approached the desk and said, "Please accept my apology for what happened yesterday. I certainly don't blame you for being angry."
Glaring at me, he replied, "Do you have any idea how dangerous Mr. Longbottom's mistake could be in a real life situation? Imagine needed a Blood-Replenishing Potion and discovering that all you have is a bottle of ink!"
I groaned inwardly as he made it clear that he knew exactly what had happened. What in the world had I been thinking?
Not bothering to argue I said, "You're absolutely right...but Professor Snape...the bottles were identical. Anyone could have made the same mistake."
"Then perhaps Mr. Longbottom should have been more careful when choosing his flasks." he retorted icily.
Taking a few more steps towards his desk I pleaded, "Please, don't punish Neville. This was entirely my idea."
"I never would have guessed." he snarled. "You really will do anything to insure your popularity with the students won't you, Professor Archer?"
I protested, "Please understand I don't normally do that sort of thing...I only did what I did because I was desperate!"
Snape's eyebrows drew together as he scowled, "I see."
"Wait, that's not what I meant!" I said hastily.
"Oh, I think I know exactly what you meant." he hissed. "You, Professor Archer, are very much like a porcelain doll.....exquisite and flawless on the outside but if you ever crack you will reveal yourself to be hollow on the inside!"
That hurt more than I wanted to admit. If anyone else had said that I might have been able to laugh it off...but I realized that I cared more about what Snape thought of me than I had realized.
Taking a deep breath I lowered my gaze and said softly, "I won't trouble you any further, Professor Snape."
Without waiting for a response, I turned away and left the room feeling a terrible weight on my heart.
I was gradually beginning to learn that while at Hogwarts it was pointless to go into hiding because sooner or later, circumstances would always force me to emerge from my room and face the world. Monday was yet another bright and cheerful day that seemed to be mocking my low spirits as finally found the courage go through the portrait hole and make my way downstairs.
My nerve failed me however as I approached the Great Hall. Still unable to bring myself to see my fellow professors over breakfast, I went to the staff room where I had coffee and a couple of crescent rolls.
At the end of the school day, I was in better spirits and beginning to feel that I was finally able to face everyone in the Great Hall for dinner that evening. Cheerfully dismissing the class, I locked up my office but decided to start leaving the main classroom unlocked in case any my art students wanted to use the drawing tables instead of trying to find a work space in the Great Hall or in the House common rooms. Before going to my room, I made a quick stop in the staff room to leave a notice for Filch that any students seen in the art room had my permission to be there.
"How are you feeling, Professor Archer?" asked a familiar voice at my side.
Startled, I turned and to see Minerva standing next to me with a sympathetic smile on her normally stern face.
"Oh, I'm doing well. I was feeling drained over the weekend but I'm much better now." I answered truthfully.
I wasn't sure she believed me, but still smiling, she replied, "Good. We've all been worried about you. Will we see you at dinner this evening?"
"Yes. Yes you will." I smiled as I placed the note for Filch into his staff mail box.
Again expressing that she was glad to see I was doing well, Professor McGonagall left the room, leaving me to believe for a moment that I was alone.
"Ah yes, the world comes to a stop when the Princess fails to make a royal appearance to the court." said a cold voice behind me.
Whirling around, I saw that the person who was the source of my aggravation had entered the staff room while I was speaking with Minerva and was now regarding me with his usual cold glare. Staring down his hooked nose, Snape asked sarcastically, "What in the world could have kept Dumbledore's Darling from mingling with her followers and receiving the adoration she loves?"
"You don't know?" I whispered in anger. "You really don't know?"
Not giving him a chance to respond, I charged forward and glared into his eyes.
"How can you not know? It amazes me, Professor Snape, just how much you don't know! You believe yourself to be so observant and in tune with everything that goes on around you but the truth is you don't have the slightest idea! How can someone who spends so much time staring down his nose fail to see what is going on right under it!"
Again not giving him a chance to respond, I turned on my heel and stormed out of the room. Not wanting to take my fresh surge of anger out on anyone, I ended up spending yet another evening having a quiet supper alone in my room.
After four days of keeping myself in isolation, I realized when I woke up that Tuesday morning that no matter what happened that day, I had to resume taking my meals in the Great Hall with the others. My continued absence was noted and was sparking more and more questions of concern from the students as well as the other professors. Thankfully, no one had witnessed the previous day's "Snape versus Archer" confrontation.
Once again, working with the students had a calming effect on me and my inward ranting over the Potions Master ceased for the duration of the school day. The paintings turned in by my Tuesday class were just as impressive as Monday's and my spirits lifted to see how eagerly the students took to learning new drawing and painting techniques. At least they thought the course I taught had value so what did it matter what anyone else thought?
When the final dismissal bell rang, I informed my students, as I did the previous day, that the classroom would remain open for their use and I was pleased to see that quite a few of the children remained at their drawing tables to continue their paintings. Feeling encouraged, I locked my office and then went to the staff room for the weekly meeting.
As I approached the door, soft voices carried out into the hallway, one of which I identified as Snape's. While I didn't catch his complete sentence, I did clearly overhear my grandfather's response.
"What I find so amusing, Severus is that I am aware of what lengths you are willing to go to....what you were in fact willing to risk for her. Yet now when actually faced with her you are putting up walls...as though she herself frightens you." said Dumbledore in his usual quiet voice.
"With all due respect, Headmaster...she is impossible!" Snape replied.
My grandfather laughed, "Gwendolyn is very much like her mother and her grandmother. All of them having strong, unbreakable wills...therefore, Severus I know what I am talking about when I say don't bother fighting. You can't win."
After a pause, I heard Snape whisper, "I beg your pardon, Headmaster?"
In a firm but still warm tone, my grandfather answered, "Stop pushing her away when that is not what you actually want to do. Gwen may not notice how you look at her when you think she isn't paying attention...but I do."
My jaw dropped and I stood quietly outside the door. Snape didn't hate me after all. In fact, these emotions that had been troubling me the past few days were not one sided. I waited a moment for Snape to deny what my grandfather said but that denial never came.
Just as I was processing what I had heard, the other professors approached the room, many of whom asked how I was doing and my presence had been missed these past four days. Now greatly cheered up, I replied to them with a smile that all was well and my isolation period was indeed over.
The only thing I really remembered about that particular meeting was that Professor Grubbly-Plank would be substituting the Muggle Studies class for the next two weeks while the new professor was making preparations to leave her previous job and home to come and live at Hogwarts.
At the end of the meeting I lingered next to the staff bulletin board which happened to be near a window and discreetly watched the reflections of the other professors as they filed out of the room. It was very easy to pick out Snape's black robed figure.....and equally easy to see how he turned his head to look at me as he walked by.
Once alone in the room, I leaned against one of the tables and smiled to myself. So Snape was dealing with his emotions towards me by glaring, making snide remarks and more or less building walls around himself to keep me out. Obviously he didn't know much about what I was like when I was a student....I specialized in trying to come up with ways of breaking through barriers. Nothing made me want to be somewhere more than be told I had to stay out....If Snape was building walls I simply had to knock them down.
Turning my eyes towards the doorway that the Potions Master had gone through only a few minutes ago, I whispered to myself, "You do realize, Professor Snape...this means war."
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