The school was a buzz with activity as staff and students awaited the arrival of the new Muggle Studies teacher. Over breakfast I heard Professor Sprout mention to Professor Flitwick that Professor McGonagall and Lucius had taken the train to meet this woman and escort her to the castle.
Why Lucius?, I pondered to myself but figured that it may have had something to do with the fact that Lucius was the school governor and affiliated with the Ministry which had made the decision to hire a Muggle in the first place. Hopefully he wouldn't scare the new teacher off before she had a chance to set foot inside the castle.
Over the course of the day I found the questions I was overhearing the students ask each other about the new teacher amusing. At one point in the afternoon after hearing the term "Mudblood", I got up from my desk and said, "I'm surprised at all of you. One would think that this new teacher is an alien from another planet!"
"Well isn't she?" asked Draco sarcastically.
Crossing my arms I said, "Ten points from Slytherin. No she is not!...She is just as human as anyone else in this castle and you will all treat her with the respect that she deserves just as you would any other professor."
"My dad doesn't think she'll last a week!" Draco retorted.
"Another ten points from Slytherin." I replied. "Contrary to what many of you believe, there are no entirely 'pure blood' families...Not one. Do any of you have any idea just how many of the old families have died out in the past century? Quite a few! The fact is there are not enough of us in the Wizarding community to exist without some of us marrying Muggles."
Glaring at Draco who was regarding me with a sneer very much like his father's, I added, "In fact, if the remaining old families continue to hold on these outdated prejudices and only inter-marry with each other, in a few generations it will be those in the Magical community who will find themselves sporting extra eyes and limbs!"
That statement brought about soft laughter from some students and eye-rolls from others. This poor woman, whoever she was, was in for an uphill battle.
Shortly after the students were dismissed for the day, I heard the sound of loud voices coming from the Entrance Hall. Leaving my classroom, I stood at the top of the staircase and watched curiously as Minerva and Lucius escorted a short, very pretty but frightened looking woman with long red hair into the Great Hall. Even from the top of the stairs I could see how wide eyed and unsure she looked.
"So that's her." said Professor Flitwick who had suddenly appeared at my side.
"I guess so. The poor thing looks like a deer being led into a den of wolves." I replied.
Shaking his head, the tiny man replied, "For her sake I do hope that the Ministry and the Headmaster know what they're doing."
No sooner were his words spoken when Dumbledore, Snape and Pomona began climbing the stairs towards us.
"We need to all meet briefly in the staff room." said my grandfather gravely. "There are some things we all need to go over."
Around twenty minutes later, the entire staff except for Professor McGonagall and Lucius, took their usual seats and waited curiously for what the Headmaster had to say about our new arrival. Standing at the podium at the front of the room, Dumbledore looked at all of us over his spectacles and his gentle but firm voice carried through the room.
Looking at each of us, he said, "As most of you already know, Minerva and Lucius have just arrived with Professor Narya Prewitt, our new Muggle Studies teacher and are currently getting her settled in. The woman is understandably overwhelmed so I suggest that this evening we give her some space and allow her to adjust to this new...and strange world that she now finds herself in."
There was a few seconds of murmuring among the staff and my grandfather waited patiently for the voices to subside before continuing.
"She will begin teaching classes on Monday morning. Over the weekend I do encourage each of you to introduce yourselves and make her feel welcome. I also suggest that staff and students refrain from using magic in front of her for the time being. Narya is a lovely and intelligent woman and I have no doubt that she will make a positive contribution to the school." After another brief pause, Dumbledore concluded, "While Lucius is her official guide and guardian, it's up to all of us to make sure she feels at home."
Lucius?, I thought in amazement. Lucius had been assigned to help the Muggle teacher to adjust to living in the magical world when it was widely known that he didn't consider non-magical people to being any better than the dirt under his boots? What in the world was my grandfather thinking? This poor woman really would be lucky to last a week with that arrogant man assigned the task of looking after her.
A few minutes later, the staff slowly filed out of the room, continuing to murmur among themselves. Lagging behind, I approached my grandfather who was speaking with Snape and Filus.
"She looked so scared." I commented when my grandfather noticed me standing nearby.
"She is." he replied. "In fact she had a scare the moment she got off the train. She was able to see the Thestrals that were pulling her carriage."
"Really?" I exclaimed in surprise.
Nodding, my grandfather said, "The world as she has known it has entirely changed." Placing his hand on my shoulder, Dumbledore smiled, "I hope you take some time to welcome her. You might find that the two of you have a lot in common."
"I'll do that." I replied."If I may ask...why Lucius?"
With an amused glint in his blue eyes Dumbledore replied, "Because Lucius has a lot to learn as well."
Yet another week behind me, I thought to myself as I dismissed my final class. With a contented sigh I turned to the stack of drawings on the corner of my desk and proceeded to grade them. The wonderful thing about having only one class in the afternoon was that it allowed me to get through all of my students homework leaving nothing to be graded during the weekend.
The past few days had been very pleasant and unless I was greatly mistaken, Snape was actually enjoying my late afternoon visits to his office. While he usually acted as though my presence annoyed him, and had in fact called me a pest, he never actually asked me to leave. In fact it seemed as though he contributed just enough to the conversation to keep me there. I had also noticed that he never moved the stool that I had pulled over next to his chair.
It was another two hours before the school day was over for everyone else. Smiling, I realized that I was checking the clock every few minutes and admitted to myself that I was looking forward to the afternoon visits as much as Snape appeared to be. I was very slowly beginning to see that my grandfather was right about him.
Not wanting to appear too eager, I forced myself to remain at my desk for a few minutes after the final bell rang. For a while I listened to the sound of students moving through the corridors on their way back to their common rooms. When their voices finally died away, I got up from my chair and left the room.
Take your time, I told myself as I reached the stairs leading to the dungeons. For some reason the lower level of the castle no longer looked so sinister to me. Having only been in the Potions classroom, I found myself becoming curious about what else was down there.
"Good day, Professor Snape." I said cheerfully as I entered his office and approached his desk.
"If you say so." he replied without looking up at me.
Used to his apparent indifference, I walked around to the other side of the desk and sat down on the stool.
Looking at me out of the corner of his eye he said, "You do realize, Professor Archer that if you continue making these visits people will begin to talk."
"Let them. It would not be the first time I would be the topic of conversation." I replied.
"Oh, of course not. Since your arrival no one has been able to focus on anything else." he whispered as he turned his eyes back to the parchment he was writing on.
"So tell me, what else is down here?" I asked as I pulled the stool closer.
"Here. The dungeons. What else is down here besides your office and classroom?" I asked.
"Shadows, dust and spiders. How exciting." he answered snidely.
"Oh there has to be more than that down here. There are gargoyle guardians all the way down the corridor." I pointed out.
"That doesn't mean that they are actually guarding anything." he said, still keeping his eyes on his work.
"True...in that case, what were they guarding?"
"I understand you excelled in Divination. Can't you do crystal gazing or cloud watching or whatever it is you do to find out?"
"I could but I think it would be easier to simply take a look around." I smiled.
"Don't go sneaking around the dungeons." Snape said firmly. Raising his eyes to me, he smiled slightly and added, "You don't want to get yourself in another mess like you did with the ectoplasm do you?"
That embarrassing incident took place when I was a student in my fifth year. Looking at Snape in surprise I exclaimed, "You know about that?"
"I'm afraid everyone knew about that." he answered.
Staring at him a moment I said sharply, "No they didn't."
"Obviously they did."
"No, it wasn't common knowledge. Who told you about it?" I demanded.
Pausing in his work he turned his eyes towards me and replied, "I don't know....it was just out there with the other senseless school gossip."
"I never heard anyone else talking about it." I retorted.
"Well maybe they didn't want to hurt your fragile feelings!" he said as he returned his attention to his work.
"That wouldn't have stopped some people." I said as I leaned against his desk. "In fact I can think of a number of individuals who would have been happy to remind me of it at every opportunity."
Sitting back in his chair, Snape looked at me wearily and asked, "What difference does it make?"
"I just find it odd that you knew about something that my House-mates didn't know." I answered.
"I'm observant which is more than can be said for some people." he replied.
Obviously I wasn't going to get any more information out of him, at least not at that time. Shaking my head in amusement I asked, "Have you always been this difficult to get a straight answer from?"
"I gave you straight answers."
"That is a matter of opinion." I smiled as I leaned my elbows on the arm of his chair.
Once again Snape glanced at me out of the corner of his eye I he leaned over his work and I couldn't help but notice that he now longer appeared as wary as he did when I had first started visiting him.
"I should probably inform you that I am not going to be working long down here," he said softly. "so if you aren't through bothering me we will have to continue this session over dinner."
Pushing my hair back I smiled, "Professor Snape, was that your way of asking me to have dinner with you?"
"I merely meant that if you wanted to persist in demanding my time and attention you wouldn't be able to do so down here." he replied.
Amused, I said, In that case, I would very much like to continue annoying you when you're ready to go upstairs."
Sitting back I watched him a moment then commented, "I have to admit my grandfather knew what he was talking about."
"He usually does." Snape replied.
"He told me a number of times that he thought we could be friends if we gave each other a chance and I am beginning to think he was right." I said as I rose from the stool.
Snape paused a moment in his writing then said somewhat stiffly, "Did he?...Friends."
"Yes he did." I said as I took a few steps away from the desk to stretch my back. Looking back at him I added, "I hope you don't mind if I have in fact begun to think of you in that way. It's been wonderful having someone to talk to."
"Well as long as you're happy. That's all that matters isn't it?" he said in a strangely cold voice.
Hoping I was mishearing him, I stopped in front of his desk and said, "I was....at least I had thought I was getting the impression that you felt the same way."
He didn't reply as he raised his black eyes to me and I was alarmed to see some of the coldness returning to his gaze.
"Have...you actually been serious when you say I've been annoying you?" I asked warily.
"Would it have mattered?" he asked coldly.
Hurt I answered, "Yes it would have mattered. I don't want to be anywhere I'm not wanted."
"There are places that Dumbledore's Darling isn't wanted? I had no idea!" he snapped.
Taking a step backward I whispered, "I had thought you were through saying such things to me."
"Did I upset you?" he asked snidely. Rising from his chair he hissed, "Well forgive me for causing you distress and disrupting your perfect life!"
Heart broken and angry, my sight blurred with tears. Stepping up to his desk I glared in his eyes and exclaimed, "I am done, Professor Snape! I am done with this!"
Jabbing my finger at him, I shrieked, "You keep making snide remarks about how everything has been so perfect for me and that my life has been nothing but roses and rainbows....Well let me tell you something Professor Snape...You don't have the slightest idea what I have been through! Did you not pay any attention to what your friends were doing during your time as a Death Eater?"
I thought I saw Snape wince slightly but he said nothing.
"In case you don't know.....that group that you were a part of came to my house!" I snarled. "They murdered my father before he had a chance to know what was happening. My mother was tortured and killed by your friends right before my eyes. Does that sound perfect to you?! Does it?"
Backing away from his desk I sobbed, "I am done with you. Do not speak to me again...ever!"
Not waiting for or even wanting a reply, I ran from the room, up the dungeon stairs and didn't stop until I reached my room where I remained the rest of the night.
The day started out normally enough. As Ashlar and I cantered around the school grounds through the brightly colored trees, there was nothing to indicate that later that evening I would be wondering if I would in fact live to see the dawning of another day.
At the end of the ride, I dismounted and led my horse back to the paddock where I then proceeded to remove his tack. Since he was so well trained, I didn't bother to tie him to the fence as I unbridled him. Ashlar opened his mouth wide a couple of times as he always did once the bit was out of his mouth. As I went over his sleek hide with the body brush I was aware that many of the students were spending the day outside, taking advantage of what was probably one of the last warm days of autumn. Neville and a few of his classmates came to lean against the paddock fence and from somewhere behind me I could hear Hagrid talking to Fang.
"Okay Ash, ready to go in?" I said to the horse as I opened the gate to his paddock. Just as Ashlar was about to follow me, he was startled by the large boar-hound who had bounded over to us without warning.
With a frightened snort, Ashlar abruptly wheeled around and tore off at a gallop towards the Forbidden Forest. Stunned, I couldn't believe that a horse that had once been a part of the Azkaban mounted patrol and a trained fighter had been spooked by an animal as harmless as Fang.
Grabbing the halter and lead rope, I set off on foot after the horse. Looking at the sky I noticed uneasily that it was beginning to get dark but figured that Ashlar had not gone very far into the forest, plus he always came when I called him.
It ended up being more difficult to locate the horse than I had previously thought and I realized I should probably have asked Hagrid to come with me as my surroundings continued to become steadily darker. The further I went the more puzzled I became over Ashlar not answering my calls. I began to worry that the reason he didn't come was because he was for some reason unable to.
Eventually my calls were answered my Ashlar's neigh, which sounded oddly frightened. Picking my way through the brush, I finally saw his large black form standing in a clearing.
"What's the matter?" I asked quietly as I approached. "You know Fang isn't something to be afraid of."
Ashlar turned his head towards me but to my surprise, did not move from where he stood. Finally when I was standing right beside him I saw that he was in fact tethered to a nearby tree by a dark rope that was around his neck.
"What the....." I muttered to myself as I immediately loosened the odd looking lasso and pulled it over the horse's head.
The next thing I knew, green glowing ropes had suddenly appeared around my wrists and abruptly tied my hands together. At first I was too surprised to be frightened but then I felt similar bindings manifesting around my ankles, loose enough to allow me to stand but restraining enough that I couldn't run.
Ashlar's ears flattened against his head and he bared his large teeth at something behind me. Turning to follow the horse's angry gaze, my heart nearly stopped when I found myself face to face with five Dark Riders on their demonic black steeds.
I didn't know what to say. Obviously they had come for Ashlar and regarded me as a horse thief.
Well, you are, I reminded myself.
As they slowly advanced my sight began to blur and I realized that the binding on my wrists and ankles were in fact slowly releasing a poison through my system. As the world went out of focus, I swayed unsteadily on my feet, powerless to do anything against these creatures. My loyal Ashlar was in a frenzy as he reared and kicked threateningly at the riders as they attempted to close in on us.
Everything that was going on around me ceased to feel real and time stood still. Unable to see anything but blurry movements, I weakly sank to my knees. What was going to happen to me? Would they kill me or take me off to Azkaban? What would happen to Ashlar?
As the poison did it's work my perception of what was going on became more confusing. I thought I heard voices that sounded like those of the students but what would they be doing out here? I also thought I perceived large white, misty shapes charging by but at that point I was unable to see anything at all and could only stare into space helplessly. The world felt as though it was turning upside down as I completely lost my sense of balance and fell to the side, my head dangerously close to Ashlar's huge feet.
More noises...voices and rapid movements. I could barely feel the ground beneath me as the poison slowly gave me a queasy sense of floating. I was now so disconnected from my environment that I had no idea exactly when the sounds stopped. It was suddenly so still that I wondered feverishly if I was in fact dead.
Ashlar nickered in my ear and pushed me a few times with his nose but I was powerless to move or respond. It was then that I was aware of someone or something walking towards me. My vision still terribly blurred, I made out the shape of a tall hooded figure in black....one of the Dark Riders. Knowing there was nothing I could do, I allowed my eyes to drift closed and awaited whatever fate the approaching being had in store for me.
Now without any strength left in my body I was vaguely aware of a pair of hands gently touching me. Moments later, I felt the bindings on my wrists and ankles disappear and I was very gently lifted into a sitting position and my head rested against someones neck and shoulder as arms went carefully and firmly around me.
I was strangely aware of hair that was not my own touching my face.
My last thought before sinking into darkness was that I didn't know the dark riders had hair.
Whatever happened during the time I was unconscious was unknown to me, the poison that the dark riders had used causing me to descend into a black, dreamless sleep. At some point I opened my eyes but was still unable to see or think clearly. My surroundings were nothing more than a blur of light and shadows. Eventually I became aware of soft, concerned voices and gentle hands touching and attending to my wounds.
"Gwen, what am I going to do with you?" said a voice that I recognized as that of my grandfather's.
He sounded as though he were on the verge of tears and as much as I wanted to answer him, I found that I was unable to speak. Shortly afterward I must have gone back to sleep. While not entirely sure where I was or what had happened, the knowledge that Dumbledore was nearby gave me comfort and assured me that I was not in fact in the hands of the dark riders.
The next thing I could clearly remember was opening my eyes and finding myself in the Hogwarts hospital wing. Stunned, I struggled into a sitting position and looked around.
"I'm home?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes you are." answered Madame Pomfrey who immediately approached the bed when she noticed I was awake. "Don't move around...the poison is still in your system so you'll find yourself unsteady on your feet if you try to walk.
Running my hands through my hair I noticed that my wrists and ankles were now bandaged where the Dark Riders had tied me with the green glowing bindings. While the worst was obviously over, there was still a burning sensation under the bandages.
"I'm really alive." I whispered in amazement.
"You're a lucky witch. Had you been out there a moment longer...well, I shudder to think." said the nurse. Turning her eyes towards the door she said suddenly, "Ah, just in time, Severus."
Following her gaze, I saw the Potions Master approaching my bedside with what appeared to be a flask. Seeing my look of confusion, Poppy explained, "That was an exceptionally nasty poison the Dark Riders used...In fact I didn't have a remedy for it. Severus had to do some quick brewing to come up with an antidote."
Before I could reply, the nurse walked away as Snape proceeded to pour some of the brew from the flask into a goblet that sat on the bedside table. Without a word, he handed me the goblet and watched sternly as I drank the surprisingly sweet tasting medicine.
Taking the now empty goblet away, the Potions Master glared down at me and said, "May I ask, Professor Archer, exactly how did you come to own that Azkaban horse?"
With a weak smile I replied, "I really don't consider myself Ashlar's owner. It's more of a mutual belonging. He is my horse and I am his rider. Does that make sense?"
Snape's eyes widened slightly as he leaned over me, his face now only inches from mine as he hissed, "You are the most impossible, aggravating, annoying, trouble-making witch I have ever met in my entire life!"
Gazing up at him, I gently touched his chest with my index finger and said, "So you're saying that of all the witches you've known, I stand out the most?"
His jaw dropped slightly as he looked at me in amazement. For a brief moment he looked as though he wanted to say something else, then obviously at a loss for words, turned around and rapidly walked away. At that moment Poppy had returned to my bedside and watched the Potions Master's abrupt exit with a look of amusement.
"He'll never be the same." she laughed. Looking down at me she added, "Other than to brew the antidote he never left this room while you were asleep."
"Brought me back?" I asked. "Wait...he was out there? Professor Snape got me away from the Riders?"
"He did." the nurse answered.
Looking towards the door, there was nothing I wanted more than to follow the Potions Master and express my gratitude.
As though sensing my thoughts, Poppy said firmly, "Stay right where you are. If all goes well I can let you go some time tomorrow."
Realizing that the nurse was right in that I still had not entirely recovered, I sank back against the pillow and contemplated what she had told me. Snape had faced five Dark Riders and had somehow gotten me back here. That was the moment my emotions towards Snape deepened from fascination and uneasy friendship into something else entirely.
The following afternoon when Madam Pomfrey allowed me to leave the hospital wing, I had to go to my grandfather's office to explain what had happened and was caught off-guard to see quite a crowd already assembled. Along with Dumbledore, there was Professor McGonagall, Snape and three students who had followed Ashlar and I into the forest after they caught a glimpse of the Dark Riders.
Dumbledore, patient as always was standing behind his desk. Looking at me he said quietly, "I understand this was about Gwen losing her horse?"
Before I could reply Snape broke in, "Yes! An Azkaban horse!"
"Was! He was an Azkaban horse," I replied, "until the day his rider mysteriously disappeared in a puff of smoke!"
My grandfather's brow furrowed slightly, "And it didn't occur to you to return the horse to Azkaban?"
Smiling I answered, "Now why would I do that? It's obvious this horse loves me."
The old wizard shook his head and then addressed the students who had been watching this with poorly concealed amusement. "As the three of you are already aware, the Forbidden Forest is out of bounds. I'm afraid we have no choice but to give each of you an evening's detention....Now if that is all-"
"What about her?" Snape interrupted as he pointed at me.
Looking very tired Dumbledore turned his eyes towards the Potions Master. "What? Oh yes." Directing his attention to me he said, "Gwen, stop doing things to scare Professor Snape."
"Yes sir." I said agreeably.
Stunned, Snape exclaimed, "She's not scaring me!"
"She isn't?" asked the old wizard, "I thought said the other day that she threatened to bite you."
"I did no such thing!" I protested indignantly.
Snape looked wide eyed at the head-master and then at me. "That's not what I said!..Although it wouldn't surprise me if you did attempt do so something so uncivilized!"
Angrily I stepped towards him and said heatedly, "As if I would come that close! I detest you!"
With equal anger Snape stepped towards me and shot back "The feeling is entirely mutual! I mean it when I say I am this close to-"
"Doing what?!" I interupted.
Before Snape could answer, Dumbledore quickly came around his desk and put his hands on both of our shoulders. "Wait, wait, wait..." He looked at each of us warily as we resumed our old battle stance and glared into each other's eyes. "I was under the impression that the two of you had put your differences behind you. It would be a pity for all the progress you have made to become undone, especially over something that should have brought you closer together."
When he was sure we were not going to strangle each other, Dumbledore removed his hands from our shoulders and said gently, "Now I believe you both have classes that you need to go teach. Perhaps you should both just go about your business now."
"Agreed!" replied Snape as he turned on his heel and walked briskly towards the door. I refused to allow him to leave before I did and tried to rush past him, resulting in the two of us having a brief scuffle as we passed through the doorway.
At the top of the stairs we resumed glaring at each other. Scowling I said, "You know, no one forced you to go out there! You could have just kept to your busy schedule!"
"How was I supposed to do that when I got what happened out of Neville? When he told me you had gone out there on foot I was worried!" With that he started down the stairs.
Stunned, I asked, "Worried? About me?"
"Yes about you!" Snape answered as he stopped at the bottom of the stairs. "What would your grandfather have said if he had found out I knew where you were and had done nothing? It could have cost me my job."
With that I resumed scowling. "I see. Well, I guess you can rest easy now that there is no longer a threat to your job!"
Glowering up at me he hissed, "If you hadn't gone out there alone, this wouldn't have happened."
"If I had someone I thought I could depend on here I wouldn't have gone alone!"
Snape was silent a moment then said, "Well you need to start thinking before you act."
"And you need to stop all of this sulking and glaring at me. It's not very becoming!"
It appeared that his expression softened somewhat as I came the rest of the way down the stairs. At the landing I faced him and said sincerely, "Thank you for saving me."
After a moment of silence Snape said quietly, "You're welcome."
For a few seconds we stood there awkwardly before we finally walked in opposite directions towards our classrooms.
Now midway through the autumn term I really did wonder if the universe was making me pay some sort of karmic debt for aggravating Snape because I continued to find myself being on the receiving end of Lockhart's attentions. The man was as thick as ever, interpreting my disinterest as "being overwhelmed by the fact that I am living every witch's fantasy." What made me the "lucky" lady to be deemed worthy of Professor Lockhart is anyone's guess. Perhaps because my lineage and my blond, blue eyed appearance made me seem like a desirable "brood mare."
While he basically seemed to be a good person at heart, I tended to quickly become bored when dealing with a person who was all flash and no substance.
It was almost at the end of the lunch hour and I was heading back to my classroom when I spied the vain Lockhart at the other end of the corridor. Not ready to deal with another confrontation I went downstairs to the dungeon and quickly ducked into Snape's office.
He barely glanced at me as he sat at his desk grading papers. I looked at him a moment then came to stand behind his chair.
"Do you think I'm annoying?" I asked.
"Yes." he answered simply, not bothering to look up.
"No, I mean..." I grabbed the stool and pulled it over to sit near him. "Do I make you feel like you could just rip your hair out by the roots and grit your teeth all the way down to the gums?"
"Yes." he said, still not bothering to stop what he was doing.
Before anything else could be said, Professor Lockhart, who had apparently witnessed my flight down the dungeon stairway, appeared in the office doorway dressed in his horrid lilac robes.
"There you are!" he exclaimed. "I overheard you speaking with Hagrid about that fine horse of yours having inflamed hooves after his little gallop through the Forbidden Forest! Well I wanted you to know that I'm on top of creating a healing elixir potion that I've used many times on the Elvan horses in Norway!"
Fearing that my horse's hooves would entirely dissolve if this imbecile came anywhere near him, I quickly replied," That's very kind of you...but I've already asked Professor Snape to take care of that for me."
At that, Snape finally looked up from his papers. "No you didn't.....Ouch!!!"
Lockhart didn't seem to notice Snape grumbling under his breath as he raised his hand to where I had discreetly elbowed him in the ribs. Flashing his wide, toothy grin, Lockhart beamed, "Of course, of course. Just know that I would be happy to assist. These healing elixirs can be quite tricky!'
Snape looked at him wearily, "Why is everyone assembling in here? Don't you have classes to teach?"
"You're absolutely right, Professor Snape! It wouldn't do to keep the first years waiting. They're all so eager for me to share my vast knowledge with them! May I escort you to your next class, Professor Archer?"
No force in the world, not even Snape's dark glare could have moved me from that stool. Smiling weakly, "Oh, you go on...there are a few more things I need to go over with Professor Snape."
With one last toothy smile and wave, the object of my annoyance went on his way.
"Don't you have somewhere to go?" Snape asked as he returned to grading papers.
Ignoring his question I asked, "Would you mind putting together that potion for me? Please? If Lockhart does it Ashlar may never walk again."
Stacking the papers and putting them aside Snape hissed, "Alright! I'll brew it and bring it to you later this evening."
Delighted I stood up and to his surprise, gave him a quick hug around his shoulders "Thank you! I knew you had a heart hidden somewhere behind that dark, stoney stare of yours!"
"Anything to get you to stop fussing." he grumbled back at me.
Heading towards the door I stopped and glanced back at Snape who was still watching me from his desk. "If you're busy, you could always have one of the students or Filch bring the potion by when it's ready."
For a moment Snape just glared at me, then slowly got up from his desk. "And risk having it spilled or not given in the correct doses? I'll bring it by myself...after all I can't have that arrogant buffoon thinking he could have done the job better."
"Oh, of course not." I agreed. "Then I will see you at Hagrid's later on today."
Snape's response was nothing more than a slight nod. Since we managed to have a conversation without insulting each other I decided to quit while I was ahead and left the office to head back to my own brightly lit classroom. The afternoon was long as my thoughts kept turning towards this evening, due to relief that my horse's hooves would be cured of course. Yes that's it. I was looking simply looking forward to my horse being all better.
Shortly after classes were over, I put on my cloak and walked across the castle grounds towards the paddock. My horse was standing against the fence with his head lowered slightly and his ears turned back, obviously in a foul mood. He turned his glowing red eyes towards me and snorted as I approached. Giving him a reassuring pat, I took a look at one of his inflamed hooves. There was no telling what he had run through during his brief adventure through the Forbidden Forest but as far as I could tell it wasn't anything that was going to cause Ashlar any long term damage.
The horse again snorted and shook his head as I let go of his hoof.
"Well, it serves you right." I told him as I reached for a brush to work some of the brambles out of his mane. "Perhaps you'll remember this the next time you decide to go running off."
"You needn't worry about ole Ashlar," said a warm, deep voice from outside the paddock. I glanced over to see Hagrid walking over to lean against the fence. "In a few days he'll be as right as rain."
Before I could reply we were distracted by the sound of an angry voice from the walk-way that led to the castle. Looking across the top of my horse's back I saw none other than Lucius Malfoy, briskly walking in that arrogant way of his, practically dragging a young red headed woman behind him. He seemed to be doing a lot of complaining but the only words I was clearly able to hear was "Muggle" and "banshee".
"Is she the new Muggle teacher that Dumbledore appointed to the staff?" asked Hagrid as he gestured towards the red haired woman.
"Yes." I answered as I continued to brush Ashlar's mane. "And none other than Lucius Malfoy has been appointed as her guardian. First Gildaroy, now this. Honestly Hagrid, I love my grandfather but at times I really wonder what's going through his head to have that sort of person at Hogwarts."
The giant looked at me with mild surprise. "Personally, I think the Muggles have a lot to offer to the students."
"I didn't mean her. I mean Lucius. Everyone knows how..abrasive..he can be. That poor woman will be lucky if she makes it through an entire week. He looks at her as though he can't stand the fact that they are breathing the same air." I replied. After a pause, I added, "I suppose I know exactly how she feels."
Hagrid grinned and chuckled softly. "Now what do you mean by that? Are you talking about Professor Snape?"
For a moment I stopped brushing my horse and rested my hand on his raven black neck. "Yes I mean Professor Snape! There are times when I believe he really does hate me."
That brought another chuckle from the grounds keeper. "Professor Snape may be charged with a variety of emotions right now but I guarantee you, dislike isn't one of them."
A sudden snort from Ashlar alerted me to the fact that the current subject of our conversation was at that moment approaching the paddock. Wearing his hooded black cloak, Snape walked around the outside of the fence towards the horse's head. In his hand he held a small glass bottle filled with a red liquid.
With an amused gleam in his eye, Hagrid stepped away from the fence to pick up a burlap sack that way lying near-by. "I'm sure the two of you have this under control, so I'll just get on my way."
"You're leaving?" Snape asked in surprise.
"Aye, one of the Thestrals mares is expecting a wee one tonight. Thought it would be best to go into the forest in case she needs help." With an amused wink to me, the giant ambled off, along with Fang, towards the Forbidden Forest.
For a brief, mischievous moment I considered letting Snape figure out himself how to get the horse to swallow the potion but then decided that poor Ashlar was miserable enough so I reached down for the long tube with a funnel on the end that was lying on the ground for the purpose of administering the medication.
"Here." I smiled as I held out the end with the funnel. "You can take care of the end that doesn't come close to Ashlar's teeth."
My smile was rewarded with Snape's usual dark glare as he took the funnel. "You're too kind."
After some gentle prodding I worked the other end of the tube into Ashlar's mouth and spoke to him softly as Snape poured the healing potion into the funnel. Judging from the way the horse laid his ears back and narrowed his eyes, the medicine must have had an unpleasant taste. However, he didn't put up much of a struggle and only shook his head and champed his teeth a few times after the tube was removed from his mouth.
"This will make him quite sleepy." Snape muttered quietly as he replaced the now empty bottle inside his cloak.
No sooner were the words spoken when the raven black horse lowered his head and allowed his eyelids to droop. The stinging in his hooves no longer appeared to be bothering him. He swished his long tail a few times but was otherwise quite still.
"If that is all..." said Snape as he abruptly turned and started to walk back towards the castle.
"Wait!" I called as I ducked under the fence. Drawing my own cloak around me I walked towards the Potions Master. "Are you going to be a gentleman and walk me back to the castle or am I going to have to work my way through the dark by myself?"
His response to my question was, as always, a silent scowl, but at least he didn't turn and walk away from me. Feeling adventurous, I linked my arm through his and cheerfully walked alongside him towards the towering castle. He wasn't very responsive to my attempts at conversation and would only occasionally look at me out of the corner of his eye.
As we entered the main hall we were immediately aware of Lucius and the red headed muggle teacher on one of the high stairways. He appeared to be berating her for some sort of offense which she stood against admirably.
"That poor thing." I whispered, as I looked up at the red headed woman.
"You needn't be concerned about her." Snape answered as he watched the pair, with what appeared to be an amused smirk on his face. "Lucius is the one who is getting in over his head. He doesn't have the control that he believes he does."
Lucius's voice continued to echo off the walls for a few minutes after he and the woman disappeared at the top of the stairs. To my surprise Snape continued to walk with me until we reached the staircase that led to my room. As I wished him a goodnight I thought I caught a movement in the shadows but at a place such as Hogwarts, such a thing is not unusual. Reluctantly, I let go of Snape's arm and walked up to the second step. I paused there briefly then looked back at the black haired wizard.
"Thank you." I said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "I really do appreciate the help you've given me."
Before he could respond, I suddenly lost my footing, as though the stairs had suddenly turned to ice. Completely taken by surprise I was unable to catch myself and fell forward off the stairs and into Snape's arms. We were then aware of two laughing figures running off into the darkness. In spite of the shadows, there was no mistaking the red hair of the Weasly twins who had apparently decided to cast an Icing Spell on the staircase.
"You!" Snape called after them angrily. "Twenty points from Gryffindor!...Each!"
He was answered only with the sounds of their laughter as they continued their escape down the dark hallway. Much to my amusement, Snape's arms which had gone around my waist to keep my from falling remained around me as we watched the twins disappear from sight.
With a boldness I never knew I possessed, I gently touched the ends of his hair with my finger tips and drew back just far enough to look up into his deep black eyes as I whispered, "Once again you've saved me. I'm beginning to think of you as my own Dark Guardian."
For once I was not faced with his usual stony glare. His eyes had widened slightly giving him a look of surprise and uncertainty but to my delight he still did not remove his arms from my waist.
After a moment of silence and looking visibly shaken, Snape spoke in a low voice, "Gwen, I -"
What he was going to say I was never to know, for at that moment Filch became the next unfortunate victim of the Icing Spell and slid down the stairs. He landed at our feet, uttering a colorful stream of obscenities. Climbing to his feet he glared hatefully at the stairs.
"Damn Weasleys!" he snarled. "Now I have to be the one to to heat buckets of water to thaw them out!"
Stepping away from Snape I examined the staircase myself. Running my hand over the railing, I said, "I don't think that will be necessary. Icing spells don't usually last very long. In fact, it appears to have cleared up already. If you had only come down a few moments later....."
Regretfully, I looked at Snape who was still watching me but had recovered his composure, looking at me with his usual, disinterested stare. Filch, oblivious to what he had interrupted continued his tirade about the antics of the Weasly twins. With his cat Mrs. Norris, who had avoided the icy staircase, he stalked down the corridor ranting about chains and manacles. Silence again filled the stairwell but that brief enjoyable moment prior to Filch's entrance was lost.
Snape lowered his eyes and turned from me slightly. "Goodnight, Professor Archer."
"Good night, Professor Snape." I answered quietly as I watched him walk down the corridor towards the stairs that led to the Slytherin house. When he disappeared into the shadows, I climbed the stairs to the painting that concealed the door to my own apartment. "Morning Glory" I whispered to the ivory unicorn in the painting. Stepping through the doorway I was filled with discontentment, but held on to the hope that perhaps the events of the evening would bring about a change in the way Snape and I reacted to each other.
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