The next morning I discovered I was right about the events of the previous evening changing things between Snape and I. It was even worse! Now he seemed to ignore me completely, much to my aggravation. The few times we passed each other in the hallway he didn't appear to see me. By late afternoon I would have been grateful for a scowl or an insult.
As if that wasn't enough to dampen my mood, many of the students seem to have a bad case of the giggles which I tried hard to ignore. I couldn't say that I blamed them. With the way much of the faculty had been behaving the students didn't lack for things to giggle about.
Eventually we reached the final class of the day and were waiting for the dismissal bell to ring. Ordinarily this would have been the beginning of my free time but since last Tuesday's staff meeting at been called off, it had been rescheduled for that afternoon immediately after classes were dismissed. Ah wonderful, I thought to myself dismally, another hour or so of seeing Snape pretend that I had vanished into thin air.
At last the bell rang and most of the students got up and headed for the door. As I began gathering up the papers on my desk I noticed that a few of the students had stayed behind and were looking at me bemused grins.
"What is it?" I finally asked a girl from Hufflepuff, who was seated in the front row.
Tentatively she approached my desk with an issue of the Daily Prophet. Pointing to an article she asked, "This isn't true, is it?"
With great interest I looked at the article that she had brought to my attention. What followed was not one of the most lady-like moments of my life. I'm sure that if anyone saw me storming through the hallways with the newspaper clutched in my fist, the red headed muggle teacher would not have been the only one to be referred to as "banshee". When I reached the faculty meeting room I practically knocked the door off its hinges drawing the attention of the other teachers that had already assembled there.
"You!" I exclaimed furiously at Gilderoy Lockhart who was seated at the front of the room hanging on my grandfather's every word. I was dimly aware of Snape standing towards the back but at the moment I had things other than his infuriating indifference to deal with.
Obviously unaware of the fact that I was seriously considering using an evaporation spell on him, Professor Lockhart smiled and stood up. "Ah, Professor Archer, I'm happy to see you too!"
I was surprised the sight of him didn't result in flames shooting out of my eye sockets. Angrily I raised the crumpled paper and shook it at him as I exclaimed, "You did this and you are going to undo it!"
My grandfather at that moment stepped in and asked quietly, "Gwen, what is it exactly that you want Professor Lockhart to undo?"
"This!" I snapped showing him the article that my student had shown me only a few moments ago. "Yet another of his publicity stunts! He'll say anything to get in the paper!"
For a minute or so all was quiet as Dumbledore read the article then pretended to go all misty-eyed. "My only grandchild is betrothed. Why was I the last to know?"
"It isn't true!" I shrieked indignantly. Pointing at Gilderoy, I added, "With all due respect, you have to rein him in! Or better yet, sack him!"
Thick as a brick, the golden haired Lockhart got up to explain, "There there, Professor Archer. I know what you're thinking...'Of all the witches in the world, how did I get so lucky?'" Without giving me a chance to reply, he continued pompously, "It's understandable for you to feel that you don't deserve me, but believe me when I say, you come pretty close!"
To add insult to injury he concluded his speech with an arrogant wink.
"Oh dear." sighed my grandfather who probably thought I was going to rip Gilderoy's head off on the spot.
Exasperated I practically wailed at Lockhart "What do I have to do to make you understand-"
I was interrupted by Professor Sprout who suddenly appeared at my side and put her arm around me. Usually a cheerful woman, Pomona was no fan of Gilderoy and found him almost as aggravating as I did.
"I'll handle this." she said with an affectionate squeeze. Turning her attention to Gilderoy her voice took a no-nonsense tone. "Listen!...There is no way in a Chaos Dragon's lifetime that Gwendolyn will ever be engaged to you!"
"Right!" I agreed, grateful for Professor Sprout's support.
She continued, "There's no point in pursuing her because she doesn't love you!"
"Right!" I exclaimed emphatically.
"And there is nothing you, or anyone else can do to change that because she already loves Professor Snape!"
"Right!....What?" I looked at the short, plump woman at my side in horror.
"You're welcome, Gwen." she smiled as she patted my hand before returning to her chair.
There was an all too brief moment of silence that was abruptly broken by Lucius Malfoy's laughter. I glared back at him in the corner where he sat with his head thrown back, tapping the tip of his snake headed cane against the floor. Like his son Draco, Lucius seemed to find great amusement in the discomfort of others. Next to him, the quiet muggle teacher gazed at me sympathetically.
Dumbledore than cleared his throat and said, "I believe we've all had enough excitement for one afternoon so we'll adjourn this meeting early."
It was all the excuse I needed to get out of there. I darted from the room as quickly as I had come in. Hurrying down the corridor I was wishing that the floor would open up and swallow me. I hadn't felt so humiliated since that day when I was a student and that horrible Sirius Black had enchanted my long hair so that it came to life and tied me to a tree.
Before I had gone very far I heard my grandfather's gentle voice call to me. "Gwen."
Anyone else I would have ignored and kept going, but I simply couldn't walk away from Albus Dumbledore. I stopped in mid-stride and waited as he quietly walked up to me, folding the newspaper he still held in his hands.
Smiling he said, "I'll personally see to it that a retraction is printed."
"Thank you." I answered quietly. Raising my eyes to his I suddenly felt as though I were going to cry. "Oh Grandfather, I'm so embarrassed."
"Why?" he asked.
"Why?" I replied. "You were there. You heard what...." I clenched my fists, unable to finish the sentence.
"Ah Gwen." my grandfather smiled kindly. "Professor Sprout didn't say anything that the rest of us didn't already know...expect of course for Professor Lockhart...and perhaps Severus himself."
For a moment I looked at Dumbledore in stunned silence then asked, "Really?"
Placing his hand on my shoulder, he answered, "My dear, it isn't that difficult to see. In a school filled with people who find him intimidating and attempt to avoid him, you are the only one who gets angry due to a lack of attention from Professor Snape."
While my grandfather meant well, his words made me want to go outside and find the nearest rock to crawl under. "No wonder he considers me a pest!" I whined. "What am I going to do? He must hate me."
"I doubt that." the old man laughed softly. "Don't let his lack of outward emotion fool you. Perhaps you should speak to him."
My stomach churned nervously at the very thought facing Snape after Sprout's announcement in the faculty room. Grasping the deep blue fabric of my dress, I said despairingly, "I don't know where he is."
Dumbledore pondered a moment then replied, "In that case, let him find you....In other words, don't go into hiding. Just go about your evening as you normally would. Be easy to find should he decide to come looking for you. Your grandmother always said that opportunities have a way of presenting themselves when they are needed most."
I greatly doubted that Snape would do such a thing but I agreed that I would stay put and not assume my animagus form and go hide in the woods over night.
The old wizard gave me a reassuring hug, then looked down at the crumpled newspaper in his hand. "Now to take care of this. It will all be cleared up in the morning."
As he started to walk away, I thought of everything Dumbledore had said and stated, "You approve." It was not a question.
Looking back at me, he pondered yet another moment before answering. "Yes, I do." Smiling fondly, he continued, "You come from a long line of strong willed witches and are very much like your grandmother, and your mother, therefore I know what I'm talking about when I say, only a man of infinite patience, strength...and a certain amount of courage would have the needed qualities to go through life along side you."
In spite of how badly I had been feeling I couldn't help but laugh. No matter what, Dumbledore always knew what to say to make me smile through tears. I couldn't fathom my life without him. With that, we bid each other a good afternoon and continued our separate ways.
I returned to my office for a while and busied myself with some rune drawings that needed to be graded. By the time I had finished it was nearly dinner time so I reluctantly left the room and forced myself to approach the Great Hall. The sound of voices alerted me that most of the students and faculty were already in there and I paused outside the door to brace myself for the giggles that were sure to greet me.
No sooner had I strengthened my resolve when I heard the rude snickering of Lucius Malfoy. He was swinging that obnoxious cane of his and walking so fast the muggle teacher had to practically run to keep up. As they disappeared into the dining hall I murmured to myself, "How can she stand him?"
Deciding it would be best to have dinner in my room that evening, I turned around and walked into none other than Snape who was standing directly behind me.
My hands went up over my mouth to stifle a scream as I jumped a few inches off the floor. With my heart feeling like it was going to burst through my chest, I exclaimed, "Don't do that!"
Almost as still as a statue, he glared at me and said, "It doesn't make a good appearance for the granddaughter of the Headmaster to take her meals alone in her rooms."
Trying to regain my composure, I looked towards the Great Hall entrance and answered, "I'm not in the mood to be stared at."
"Really?" Snape asked in mock surprise. "It never seemed to bother you before...Dumbledore's lovely darling, admired and adored by all who see her. You and Professor Lockhart are alike in that way."
"You take that back!" I demanded, stepping forward so that we were almost toe to toe. After a pause I added, "I thought you weren't speaking to me. All day you have been acting as though I were silent and invisible."
"Silent and invisible." He repeated with the slightest of smiles. "Ah, how perfect. Actually we have been seen together often and after reading that amusing announcement in the paper this morning I was afraid your fans would become confused."
Scowling at him, I replied, "You of all people should have known that every word of that was utter rubbish! And furthermore....wait! This morning? You knew about this all day long and never said anything? I ought to-"
"Ah, ah, ah!" Snape interrupted, waving his index finger at me condescendingly. "Temper."
Staring up at him, I asked incredulously, "Are you trying to make me angry?"
"No. I am trying to persuade you to join me for dinner." He answered, gesturing towards the dining hall.
Caught by surprise, I took a step backwards and put my hands behind my back. He was regarding me with his usual emotionless stare but at least he wasn't scowling. I couldn't help but feel a little indignant that Snape thought coming down here and picking a fight with me was an acceptable form of a dinner invitation, although he did manage to make me forget for a moment about the incident in the faculty room.
"You didn't say 'please'." I muttered under my breath.
Admittedly that was bratty of me. Snape's black eyebrows drew together slightly and I knew immediately that I was pushing my luck at a moment when he was, in his own way, extending an olive branch.
"I mean yes, yes." I said hastily. "I would be very happy to have dinner with you."
He could have at least smiled. Why did he have to be so damn hard to read? Without a word, he stepped towards the door and offered his arm. Wondering for a moment if I was being set up for some sort of joke, I linked my arm through his and walked with him towards the faculty table. Ignoring the stares and giggles from the students I thought about something Snape had said to me a moment ago.
Looking up at him I asked, "Do you really think I'm a spoiled brat?"
Dinner that evening was blissfully uneventful, I was seated towards the end of the faculty table between Snape and Professor McGonagall. As much as I hated to admit it, having dinner with the staff instead of hiding in my room helped me to get over my embarrassment regarding the incident at the faculty meeting earlier that day. Minerva kindly assured me that the general consensus among my peers was that I was not the one who had looked foolish. As usual, Snape contributed little to the conversation. In fact, other than a moment or two when he made a snide comment, I wasn't sure he was listening at all.
The following morning I awoke in better spirits than I expected considering the events of the previous day. It was Friday and both students and staff were eager for the start of the weekend. At the conclusion of the last class, I went out to the paddock to check on Ashlar and discovered that the infection in his hooves had finally cleared up. He nickered a cheerful greeting to me and his eyes glowed a healthy red. Picking up the freshly cleaned tube and funnel, which actually belonged in the potions equipment cabinet, I realized that I had an excuse to pay a visit to Professor Snape whom I had seen very little of that day.
As expected, he was seated at his desk, apparently grading homework. On the desk before him were a number of small bottles containing liquid of various colors that he would pick up and examine with a look of annoyance.
He never bothered to look up as I crossed the room. As I replaced the tube and funnel in one of the cabinets he asked, "Why are you always in here?"
"Because for some mysterious reason I find your company enjoyable." I retorted.
Reasonably sure that he wouldn't get angry, I walked around behind his desk and pulled up the stool that I had used the other day and sat down next to him.
"Hiding from your over-zealous suitor?" Snape asked as he continued to examine the contents of the bottles and making notes next to each students name on a piece of parchment.
"He's not my suitor." I answered. After a moment I continued, "Professor McGonagall said he still hasn't taken the hint and the concept of a witch not being romantically interested in him is beyond his comprehension."
"Lockhart not understanding something? Will wonders never cease." Snape whispered as he sniffed the contents of a bottle and shook his head in disgust. "Still, one can hardly blame him for being persistent."
Could it be that I was finally going to get a compliment out of this man? Against my better judgment I asked, "Do you really think so?"
That was a mistake.
"Of course." he answered, finishing with one bottle and picking up another. "You are the grandchild of one of the most well known and respected wizards in the world. A connection with you would give anyone a considerable boost in social circles. The wizard who has the misfortune of taking you off the Headmaster's hands will find himself with powerful connections. You, Professor Archer, are chattel!"
For a moment I just sat there and glared at him. "How do you always manage to say things to make me feel so special?" I asked sarcastically.
"It's a gift." He answered snidely as he finally turned his head and looked at me.
Before I could respond, we were interrupted by the sound of loud voices in the hallway. Lucius, looking to be in his usual foul mood, swept through the door followed by Hagrid and the red haired muggle woman, who to my surprise actually had lasted the entire week without handing in her resignation. I noticed Snape's eyes narrowed slightly as he surveyed the group that had assembled in front of his desk.
"Severus, perhaps you can assist me in being the voice of reason." said Lucius as he gestured towards the others. "I can't believe the ridiculous idea they are proposing!"
Professor Prewitt countered, "What better way is there for the students to see how Muggles live without magic?"
Ignoring her, Lucius continued to address Snape. "My 'Muggle charge' here has suggested taking the students on a...a field trip...into the muggle world."
Hagrid broke in cheerfully, "You know what I would love to see? One of those money machines that I've heard our Muggle-borns talking about. How do those work again?"
Smiling, the muggle teacher answered, "The bank issues a little plastic card with a series of numbers on it. Then for each card the bank issues a PIN"
"Personal Identification Number." the muggle teacher explained politely.
"Oh and the PIN is on the card?" asked Hagrid.
"Oh no!" the woman answered with a laugh. "You don't want it there."
"Why is that?"
"Because if you had your PIN on your card-"
"Why is everyone socializing in here?" Snape interrupted, half rising out of his chair. "Unlike some people on this staff I"m working. Out!" he snarled, pointing at the door.
Briefly they all just looked at Snape as he sat there scowling at them. Finally Hagrid left the room, followed by Professor Prewitt.
Lucius watched them go then looked at Snape with a sarcastic grin. "You know Severus, you really need to learn to relax." His ice blue eyes shifted towards me for a second. "Perhaps the princess here can help you with that."
Without noticing how the Potions Master was glowering at him, Lucius left the room with an arrogant laugh.
Not wanting to anger Snape any further, I stood up intending to leave him to his task of evaluation the student's potions.
"Leaving so soon?" he asked to my great surprise.
Looking at him warily I answered, "Well you did just make it quite clear that you wanted everyone out."
He raised his black eyes to me briefly, then looked back at the bottle in his hand as he muttered something I couldn't quite hear under his breath.
"I beg your pardon?" I asked.
Without looking up, Snape again muttered something that I couldn't understand.
Sitting down, I leaned close to his shoulder and said, "I'm sorry. I still wasn't able to catch all that."
With a deep sigh, he straightened in his chair and said clearly, "I didn't mean you."
"Oh, that's what I thought you said." I whispered playfully in his ear.
Looking rather tired and defeated, Snape once again turned his head and looked at me. His expression was not exactly friendly but I saw none of the annoyance that he had shown towards Lucius and the others.
"Are you finished yet?" I asked, delighted that he didn't despise my company after all.
"More or less." he answered dryly.
"Then why are we down here in this cold dungeon?" I smiled as I stood up. Tugging gently on his sleeve I added, "The school week is over and it's nearly dinner time. If you weren't too bored last night I was hoping we could once again spend dinner together."
He stood up and looked down at me a moment then answered, "No, I don't so."
Crushed, I did my best to conceal my hurt and said, "Alright then. I won't trouble you any longer."
As I started to walk towards the door Snape said quietly, "I meant that after a long week I am not in the mood to listen to never ending babble from the students during my meal. Is your cloak easily accessable?"
"Yes." I answered, wondering where this was going.
Wrapping his own black hooded cloak around himself he said, "Then get it. I shall escort you to Hogsmeade."
The journey to Hogsmeade was made by Thestral-drawn carriage. Like my grandfather I was able to see the dark, skeletal horses due to what had happened to my parents. While the Thestrals are noble animals, I didn't find them as charming or as handsome as my Ashlar.
Whether or not Snape could see them was unknown to me and I didn't feel comfortable asking.
The Three Broomsticks was surprisingly quiet and I had to agree, it was nice to dine without the sound of the student's voices echoing off the walls of the dining hall. However, I would have appreciated it more if my dinner companion would have been more talkative. Making conversation was like pulling teeth and I came the conclusion that his only facial expressions were either anger or indifference. Is it really so much for a lady to ask that the gentleman with her looks even slightly pleased to be in her company?
Snape was obviously more of a listener that a talker. Although he didn't say much I had to admit he kept his eyes on me and seemed for once to be paying attention. From time to time he made a snide comment but not one was at my expense. By the time we had finished dinner I realized Snape tended to dislike everyone on general principle and I shouldn't have taken his insults as personally as I did when I first arrived at Hogwarts. I had been outraged at his suggestion that I had only being given the job of teaching magic in art because of being related to Dumbledore instead of earning it on my own merits.
True my form of magic may not have been the most practical but I believed artistic magic was an important part of our heritage. The ancient moving cave paintings attested that our ancestors were using pictographs long before the use of candles. This magic had no need for a wand.
It after dark when we returned to the carriage and headed back to Hogwarts. I could only image how amazed everyone at the school would be if they knew Professor Snape and I had managed to get through an entire evening without insulting each other or raising our voices.
The stars were incredibly clear by the time we reached the castle. Leaving the carriage and walking up the stairs towards the entrance I remembered the last time Snape and I had been in that spot we had a terrible argument when he snidely inquired exactly how many strings my grandfather had to pull to have me teaching there. The frightened first years watched with their mouths hanging open wondering if we were going to kill each other on the spot.
Looking upward at the sky I said, "It's a pity to go indoors on such an evening."
Briefly glancing upwards at the Astronomy Tower, Snape answered, "True, but we do not necessarily have to stay indoors."
I hadn't been up there since I was a student and it was certainly a wonderful place to be on such a bright, starlit evening. Pleased that Snape was not eager to rid himself of me, I walked with him through the Entrance Hall towards the staircase which led to the tower. Before we could begin the ascent however, we heard a grumpy voice from the shadows.
"There you are, Professor Snape! I'm in need of your assistance!" grumbled Filch as he came stalking out of the darkness, his skeletal cat Mrs. Norris alongside him.
"Is this really necessary?" asked Snape as he drew his eyebrows together.
"Oh it will only take a moment or two of your time. I'm sure Dumbledore will give me permission to use the manacles after I tell him about this."
Just I was was figuring the evening was over, Snape looked at me and said, "I'll return momentarily."
Surprised I nodded and replied, "I'll be here."
As the two men walked down the corridor I overheard Filch saying something about the Weasley twins and a suit of armor. Laughing softly I could only image what they had done this time to anger Filch and I walked towards one of the windows to look out at the darkened grounds.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the voice that I disliked above all others.
"Ah, Professor Archer, the very person I wanted to see!"
Trying not to groan in disgust I turned around to see Gilderoy Lockhart swaggering towards me with his usual wide, toothy grin.
"What do you want?" I asked wearily.
"Only to beg a thousand apologies my lady for yesterday's misunderstanding." he answered cheerfully.
"There was no misunderstand, Professor Lockhart. You acted completely out of turn with that announcement."
"I know!" he agreed. "I should have asked you first but I figured it would be best to get that bit of business out of the way."
Glaring at him I said, "That was putting the cart before the horse wouldn't you say?"
"Ordinarily yes, but knowing you were going to be asked the question that every witch in the world dreams of, it seemed logical to speed things along. Were you planning on doing the obligatory 'I'll think about it' for the sake of appearance?"
I felt my eyed widen. "You are unbelievable."
With a wide smile Lockhart answered, "Why thank you, Professor Archer. I've heard that many times before but it's always nice to hear it again, especially from a witch such as yourself."
"How kind of you." I muttered, my sarcastic tone completely lost on this self absorbed man.
"Now that we put that somewhat embarrassing incident behind us, perhaps you would like to join me in the dining hall for a glass of wine while I tell you all about the next book I'm writing. You no longer have to endure the company of Professor Snape to fill the boredom of your empty evenings."
Offended, I glowered at Lockhart and said firmly, " Endure? I haven't had to endure anything! Professor Snape is my friend!"
At least I think he is, I thought silently to myself.
"Well speak of the very devil!" Lockhart suddenly announced with a wide smile.
Snape did indeed look like the devil as he approached. His look of indifference was now replaced with a dark scowl. He said nothing as he stopped beside me, glaring at Gilderoy in such a way that made me wonder why the vain man didn't fall to the floor writhing and twitching.
"If you would excuse us, Professor Lockhart." I said as I touched Snape's arm and began walking towards the stairwell that led to the Astronomy Tower.
"Oh! Of course!" answered Gilderoy. "Have a good evening, Professor Archer. You too, Professor Snape."
Not a word was spoken as we climbed to the top of the tower. Enjoying the feeling of the wind in my hair I allowed my hood to fall back. I leaned against the low wall that surrounded the top of the tower and gazed upward feeling relaxed and content.
"This was a wonderful suggestion." I turned and smiled at Snape, and was completely taken aback at his expression.
He was scowling directly at me. I had no idea what I could have done to provoke that dark look and thought perhaps it had something to do with whatever Filch had spoken to him about or simply seeing Lockhart had put him in a foul mood.
"Is something wrong?" I asked tentatively.
"What in the world gives you that idea?" he whispered coldly.
"Perhaps because you're looking as though you would like nothing more than for a bolt of lightening to hit me."
With a visible smirk, Snape said in an icy voice, "I see, and we can't have anyone looking at Dumbledore's Darling with anything less than adoration can we?"
Feeling hurt and confused I took a few cautious steps towards him. "Why are you doing this? I don't want to fight with you, not after the evening we've had. I very much want to -"
"Ah you want." he interrupted. "Something that Dumbledore may not have taught his little princess is that in life we don't always get what we want....unless we are someone who has obstacles moved out of the way for us."
Hard as I tried to keep them back, my eyes flooded with tears of frustration. "Is this why we came up here? So you could berate me? Put the spoiled brat princess in her place? Is that it?" I shook my head and took a deep breath. "I actually started to think you were my friend."
"Yes." he scowled. "Your friend".
Standing there in the dark, his black hair and cloak along with his pale complexion really did make him look sinister and I saw for the first time why so many students were deathly afraid of the Potions Master.
Trying to keep my composure I whispered, "Apparently I was mistaken."
Without a word Snape turned his back on me and began to walk back towards the stairs.
Taking a few steps after him I asked, "What is it you want! Do you want me to leave?" He stopped but did not turn around as I continued, "Should I go hand in my resignation and leave Hogwarts never to return? Would that make you happy?"
Without warning he suddenly turned around, the wind billowed through his hair and cloak making him look quite menacing.
"No, you maddening witch!" he hissed as he pounced on me.
For a terrible moment I thought he really had brought me up here with the intent of throwing me off the tower and I would have screamed had he not covered my mouth with his own. His long fingers twined through my hair and held me as the wind gained in strength, whipping his cloak around us both. My heart beat rapidly as I reached up to put my arms around his shoulders. As highly charged as our numerous arguments had been, they all paled next to that long embrace.
At last he drew back slightly and looked in my eyes. I had heard the term "weak in the knees" before but until then I never really knew what it meant. I brushed the hair from his face, not wanting him to let me go.
After a few seconds he drew back from me shakily. He swallowed and looked uncomfortable as he again walked towards the tower stairway.
"You want me-" I started to ask as my breath caught in my throat, preventing me from finishing the sentence, which was asking if he really did want me to stay at Hogwarts.
Snape looked back at me, still appearing shaken. Clutching his cloak around him he answered, "So much that it hurts."
With that he swept back downstairs leaving me with my thoughts.
I slept poorly that night resulting in rising late in the morning the following day. It was a little after eleven in the morning when I got dressed, went to have a light breakfast and then walked out to the paddock to visit Ashlar. He was in high spirits and very tired of not being able to stretch his legs.
"The Wild Hunt isn't until tomorrow night." I smiled as I scratched his nose affectionately.
He answered with a snort and a shake of his head.
"Alright then." I conceded as I clipped on his lead rope and took him to a near-by supply shed to saddle him. It was a cool, crisp October morning and there was no better way to kill time and get your mind off things that are troubling you than a spirited canter around the outskirts of the school grounds and certainly better than pacing around the corridors wondering if Snape was going to resume avoiding me.
Late in the afternoon Ashlar and I returned to the paddock. The horse was obviously in good spirits with his ears perked forward and his tail up. His glowing red eyes may have made him look demonic but his personality was more like that of a friendly puppy. He certainly wasn't cut out for a dreary place like Azkaban.
After letting him back into his paddock, the horse shoved his head against my pocket, knowing that I had a treat for him hidden in the folds of my riding cloak. Smiling, I gave him the apple that I had taken from the kitchens that morning. After eating it, Ashlar shook his head making his heavy black forelock fall forward, partially obscuring his face. At that moment he reminded me in an odd way of Professor Snape.
Snape. I sighed thinking about last night's events and wondering if I would have better luck finding him now that it was later in the day. Returning to the castle, I stopped by my classroom to take care of some last minute preparations for tomorrow morning's class. Lying on my desk was a single, long stemmed yellow rose.
Placing it in a vase that I had in a near-by cabinet, I wondered who put it there. Could it be? A moment later I thought, no, not likely. Dumbledore was the only person at Hogwarts who knew that my favorite flower was the yellow rose. I then realized I hasn't spoken with my grandfather in a couple of days either. Finishing my work, I went to the stairwell that led to his office.
Entering the room, I was greeted cheerfully by the charming Fawkes. I walked around the desk and knocked on the slightly open door that led back to Dumbledore's sitting room.
"Hello?" I called.
In the process of pouring a cup of tea, my grandfather looked up and smiled. "Hello, Gwen. I was wondering where you were. Come in!"
Smiling I came into the room and gave him a quick hug saying, "I slept a little later than I meant to, then I decided to take Ashlar out for some exercise."
Pouring a second cup of tea, he replied, "Well that it what Sundays are for. Have a seat." Taking a chair, he continued, "Ashlar seems to be doing quite well from what I could see."
Dumbledore gestured towards his window which overlooked the grounds....and to my dismay, had a clear view of the Astronomy Tower.
Accepting the tea he offered me, I took a comfortable chair that was near his own and asked, "Is everything ready for the Halloween feast?"
"As ready as it can be." answered Dumbledore as he settled back into his chair. "I do hope you plan on attending."
"I wouldn't miss this for anything." I smiled, taking a sip of my tea. "In fact I'm really looking forward to spending Halloween here again."
The old man smiled. "Have you any other...plans...for the holiday besides the feast?"
"No." I answered, shaking my head. "If the Hogwarts Halloween feasts are the way they were when I was a student, I'm sure there will be enough excitement for one night."
"I see." he answered quietly as he gently stirred his tea. "It's not uncommon for the members of the faculty to have other activities on the holidays that don't involve the students after the feast is over."
Feeling slightly uncomfortable with his searching gaze I looked down at my teacup. "I can understand that. Adults need time to themselves too."
"Yes, they do."
There was a lull in conversation for a few moments as I looked out the window. Then as casually as I could, I asked, "By any chance have you seen Professor Snape today?"
Shaking his silver haired head, he said, "No, but Severus isn't usually seen very much on the weekends. He's always been a solitary man. The only person I've really seen very much of today was Professor Lockhart who said he was going to go advise the students during their Quidditch practice."
"Then I came inside just in time." I said. "Forgive me. I know that's unkind, but that man drives me up the wall."
Dumbledore laughed, "I seem to recall you saying something similar about Professor Snape.
I pondered a moment then said, "Yes he drives me up the wall as well....but it's not the same thing."
Taking another sip of his tea, he asked, "Did you and Severus have another one of your...disagreements?"
"Disagreement? Oh...no...Well there was that one moment when......No. No we didn't."
Dumbledore smiled, "Well that's good to hear. Truth be told I was getting rather concerned."
"So was I." I said, feeling a little uncomfortable. "but I think we might be able to declare some sort of truce."
"How was Hogsmeade?"
It was un-nerving how my grandfather always knew what was going on around him. Of course a number of people saw Snape and I leaving the castle the previous evening so I suppose where we had gone was no secret.
"Very well." I answered truthfully. "He's devilishly hard to have a conversation with but, dinner was very nice."
Dumbledore beamed, "I'm so pleased to hear that, and I'm sure the longer the two of you know each other, the more Severus will open up."
I smiled slightly, "I wish he would. It's so hard to know what he's thinking. I never seem to know what he's going to do next."
"One could say the same thing about you, my dear." he laughed.
"You know better than anyone." I replied warmly.
"Indeed I do." He finished his tea and poured himself a second cup. "I'm sure Severus will turn up."
"Oh I know he will...I was just hoping to speak with him before classes tomorrow."
"If nothing else you're bound to see him at dinner this evening." raising his eyes to me, he asked, "Or is that still a little too...busy?"
Now I really wondered what how much the old man knew. Still trying to look casual I answered, "That wouldn't be the most ideal setting."
Glancing towards the window, Dumbledore said off handedly, "Severus was always partial to that large black dragon painting. The one with the night sky in the background. I'm sure you know which one I mean."
"Yes I do...It's an impressive work of art." I paused a moment. "The scaling detail on the dragon is incredible."
"It is. I can't seem to remember the name of the artist. Perhaps the next time you see it, you could check the signature for me."
"I'll do that." I smiled as sipped my tea. "By the way, were you the one who left the yellow rose on my desk?"
Shaking his head, he answered simply, "No."
Puzzled, I continued, "I wondered because you're the only person here who knows how much I love yellow roses."
My grandfather smiled and said, "Yes I do....and so does Severus."
Raising my eyebrows I asked, "He does?"
"Yes. I hope you don't mind that I told him." with a mischievous glint in his blue eyes, he added, "When a man takes the time to formally ask me for my permission to court my granddaughter, I feel he deserves some...inside information."
I nearly dropped my teacup as I stared at my grandfather for a few seconds of silent amazement then said, "He did what?"
Acting as though this were all perfectly normal, Dumblefore continued casually, "It was the morning after the faculty meeting that he came to speak with me. I gave my blessing of course. I found the gesture most impressive."
For another moment I was too stunned to speak. I could only think about what my grandfather had just told me. So Snape had spoken with him the morning after the faculty meeting, which meant it was before he had invited me to dinner at Hogsmeade. It was also before....
"He called me chattel!" I exclaimed indignantly.
Dumbledore had been in the process of sipping his tea when he suddenly started coughing. Recovering, he said in an amused tone, "Yes that sounds like something Severus would say. Don't take it personally my dear."
Mildly exasperated, I just shook my head then finished my tea.
Leaning forward in his chair, Dumbledore smiled and said, "I'm afraid you must excuse me. There are some last minute arrangements I need to make for tomorrow's feast."
"Of course." I said as I stood up and placed my cup on the tray with the teapot. "I'll see you at dinner."
Still smiling, my grandfather stood up and walked with me towards the door. "And I hope you are able to get this matter cleared up."
"Thank you." I said, giving him another hug.
After leaving Dumbledore's office, I went back downstairs and worked my way towards the stairwell which led to where the large painting of a black Chaos Dragon hung. It was somewhere near the entrance to the Slytherin house. The magnificent creature had red eyes similar to Ashlars and was covered in shining black scales. Seeing me approach, it shook its head and said in a deep voice, "He isn't here."
"Thank you." I said to the painting, remembering that dragons, even dragons in paintings should always be treated with the up-most respect, after all they were far older and wiser than the human species.
Not knowing what else to do, I walked outside onto one of the balconies that overlooked the Quidditch playing field and observed a couple of the teams practicing, all working very hard for the match that would be coming up. It was easy to pick out Lockhart in his ghastly pink robes.
As I was taking pity on the students I became aware of a tall, thin form in black who had silently appeared at my side. At first we continued to watch the students without speaking. Finally Snape said, "I assume your loyalty still lies with the Gryffindor team?"
Glancing at him I smiled, "Of course. Gryffindor was my house when I was a student....but that doesn't mean we would have to be seated on opposite sides of the field during games does it?"
He didn't answer as he continued to watch the students. Placing his hands behind his back he took a deep breath and said, "Gwen, I...would like to offer my apologies if I...offended you."
The air was growing cooler as the sun was setting. Slowly rubbing my hands together to warm them, I answered, "You didn't. Not at all."
There was another awkward pause. The Quidditch teams were wrapping up practice and beginning to head inside for dinner. Finally I turned towards him and said, "Professor Snape-"
"Severus." he broke in, still looking unsure of himself.
"Severus," I smiled, "The rose was a very sweet surprise."
Turning to look at me, he said, "You shouldn't be out here without your cloak. The air is growing cold."
"Yes it is but it's nearly dinner time. We should probably head for the dining hall."
Without a word, he stepped towards me and looked in my eyes...looking almost cheerful. I don't think I would have noticed the change in his expression if I hadn't gotten to know his angry glower or his bored expressionless stare so well. Placing his finger under my chin, he tipped my head back and gently kissed my mouth. There was all of the emotion, but none of the desperation from the previous night.
Allowing me to slide my arm through his, we walked with my back into the castle.
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