A/N: When thou art confused near the end, dear reader, rest assured, all shall be explained next chapter.
When thou art bored, dear reader, rest assured, I am rapidly posting other stories on this account, and most wind up featuring guess-who and him-too. (See 'Meeting With a Cousin' in particular.)
When thou art in the habit of reviewing, dear reader, rest assured I am grateful - thanks to Aliera (I'm still working on the little mistakes bit), auroraziazan, Demeter (rest assured, the Prank isn't coming up for ages - I don't necessarily need Sirius Black to make their lives miserable, no siree!), Laurus Nobilis (yep - life insists on being difficult and contrary for Severus), Moonrose, and Saerelle (see if you can spot the first five letters of your name - it gets its own chapter next time 'round). And who was it who made the guess about the book? You were absolutely right! Take a chocoball!
And when thou art snickering at the title, dear reader, rest assured, thou can't possibly protest as much as the boys did.
Chapter Eight - Their Softer Sides
Day: 20 Month: 12 Year: 1976
Severus tried to hate her. He honestly, really did.
Unfortunately, the only thing he could dislike her for was the fact that he liked her. He could have loved her if he tried. And it was difficult not to.
It was Frank, one of the five Longbottom children, who picked him up at the station, with a cheerful Christmasy greeting that Severus dismissed with his usual cool dose of water on over-enthusiasm. In fact, even for Frankie he was being unusually genial, but Severus, unable to reason it out, let it slide for the time being. He preferred to waste as little thoughts on Frankie Longbottom as possible, because no matter how friendly Frank was nowadays, Severus never forgot the argument he and Mrs Longbottom had a few days after he had first been sent to Rowena's Valley, where Frank had shouted that he didn't want to have to share the entire house with "some stuck-up slimy git who thinks he's better than us".
"Why did you want me to leave Hogwarts for the holiday?" was all Severus inquired shortly.
Frank looked a bit put out at this ecstatic hello. "We wanted to see how you and Allie were doing. Is that so bad?"
"Why not take her and leave me?"
"Speaking of which, where is Allison?" Frank ignored the question, so Severus did his.
Allison stepped off the train with her group of Ravenclaw friends shortly later. The two were in the same year, but did their best to avoid each other. The one thing they agreed on was that it was rotten luck that they looked so much alike, with long black hair, dark eyes, swallow complexion, thin figure, rather large noses, and ears that laid flatly against their head. Their personality even had its outward similarities. Half of the school truly believed they were related, to both Severus's and Allison's disgust.
"I don't care anymore that his parents pretend he doesn't exist and that he can't get along with him. I hate not having enough money to live on without keeping him around," Allison had complained to Adela one day. "I'll happily quit school and get a job if we can get rid of him."
Severus had not even pretended to not have heard. "Doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose?" Allison had glared, continued writing, and ignored him.
Obviously, Severus thought, watching Allison and Katya Peterson hugging and wishing each other good holiday, he wasn't hampering her social life that greatly. Then she ran over to Frank and knocked the breath out of him. In turn, Frank lifted her into the air.
Now who's the one wishing we weren't connected? Severus wondered with a roll of his eyes. Luckily, in the roar of the station, no one was paying them any mind. Of course, Severus was not the only one without family to race to. Some number of students had lost family during the war thus far; it was only Severus, however, that appeared unconcerned.
"How're we getting home?" Allison asked, giving her brother a kiss.
Frank looked affronted. "Thoust have no trust in me, diminutive female sibling?"
"Just answer the question," Severus snapped.
Both shot him small glares, Allison's face tight, and Frankie visibly biting his tongue. Severus knew they'd all like to beat him up one day, but Sylvester Snape was finicky and not someone to trifle with. And the Longbottoms, a respectable family but far from a wealthy one, needed the money from Severus's board too much. "We're going to use the Underground," Frank said at last, and then blatantly turned to Allison. "My partner, Ansley, he's Muggle-born, told me how to get about it. It'll be something else, I promise, Allie."
Severus's mind blanked. He couldn't be seen going on the Underground, a Muggle-made transportation system. Not by the Slytherins who were keeping tabs on him, with almost all there at the station - and with their parents, Death Eaters!
Frank, damn him, sensed it, glanced over his shoulder at Severus, and said coolly: "You're coming along, Sev, don't even try to fight it. It's too crowded for any of your Slytherins to see you tainted by Muggle things."
Thought he was so bloody clever, didn't he? He didn't have the faintest concept of it. Severus followed sulkily, trying very clearly to convey that he had done everything short of kick, flail, and scream to get out of this. Hopefully even Christoph Wilkes could see that.
"You never answered my question on why I had to come along," Severus said abruptly, as they had filed into a sort of huge, hollow javelin that was now speeding along. Allison was gaping around, but Severus was calm. This thing was reliable enough that Muggles still used it. They had brains, after all, just no magic.
He was not asking it as a question, and it came through his voice quite clearly. No, he was stating a fact. And while Frank shrugged, Allison rose to the bait. Unlike Severus, she was hard-pressed to keep her mouth shut.
"'Cause Frankie has a girlfriend coming over for Christmas. Mama thinks its only proper that she be introduced to the whole family."
"I'm not part of the whole family." Severus did not whine the words or lash them out. It was simply a stated fact.
"No, you're not," Allison agreed, a bit too forcefully.
Silence was the only reasonable retort, although Severus's mind was filled with curses. Having to put up with the Longbottoms over holiday because of Frankie Longbottom's girlfriend? For the love of Merlin!
Day: 22 Month: 12 Year: 1976
She waved a hand. "Please, my least favourite aunt calls me Alice Jill. Just use A.J.; it's far easier on breath." Put it down, she held it out to Severus. "Nice to meet you."
The Longbottoms, who were all, for once, of a similar mind that Alice Jill Boyd was a very nice girl and just perfect for Frankie, tensed as Severus stared at her appraisingly. After all, who knew what that Snape boy would do? You could never count on him to make things go smoothly, and A.J. was a first cousin of the Wronski family on her mother's side. Wasn't it likely she would be easily offended?
Finally, Severus shook her hand. "Severus Snape," he said, voice lacking in any emotion whatsoever. "I suppose it was a chilly trip."
Adela and Allison exchanged incredulous looks while Mrs Longbottom sighed with relief.
"Oh, no. Frankie made sure I was warm - er!" A.J. blushed. "I meant, well, the cloak…"
Luckily in the Longbottoms' perspective, she didn't see Severus roll his eyes. Mrs Longbottom raised an eyebrow at A.J.'s choice of words but let it slide for now. She absolutely adored her son Frankie, and was anxious for him to be happy. It was time he was happily married, after all, especially in these troubled times; at the age of twenty-four, Frank had yet to start taking any witches seriously. While thank goodness the boy was responsible and levelheaded, it was a bit worrisome.
Day: 24 Month: 12 Year: 1976
A.J. was no Katya Peterson, particularly not in looks. She was far from stunning. For one, she was rather on the plump side, not fat, but certainly not slender. Plain mouse-brown hair fell awkwardly a little past her shoulders, streaked with ginger here and there. Severus had to wonder what it would look like if someone ruthlessly took some scissors to it and got rid of a few inches. Her eyes were a large, bright blue, nose a small button shape, and her left was a fawn's ear.
But she was intelligent. That interested Severus far more. And, to his barely-concealed pleasure, she loved potions, and admired his ability. It was flattering, and occasionally even Severus could fall into that trap. Often she would brush past him in the Tudor's corridors and pounce with questions.
"Sev gave me a potion for my headache, thank you, Mildred," she said in response to a polite inquiry at dinner. "Usually nothing cures my migraines, but that worked quite well. It was amazing, honestly. He's quite talented."
To Severus's utter dismay, heat was rising in his face. He leaned over his plate, not meeting anyone's eye as the Longbottoms' glances. What was wrong with him?
"He's good enough with his potions, I suppose," Mrs Longbottom said doubtfully. "Matthew, do not reach for things at the table."
Matt, second-to-youngest-Longbottom, pouted slightly and pulled his hand back. At nine, he had probably heard that words about six thousand times, but had a difficult time remembering.
The attempt to change the conversation didn't work. A.J. continued steadily on: "He could be very sought after one day. Did your Potions teacher ever bring that up, Sev? Who is it - is Professor Ellicha still there?"
"Yes, she is," Frank said, rather brusquely. "A.J., do you want any of the turkey?"
"Yes, please. I remember Ellicha well. What does she say, Sev?"
Frank glanced imploringly at Severus, despairing. Severus ignored him. "She says I'm good and I make her job easier, and then pairs me up with everyone who needs help. She's no real teacher."
"I liked her," Frank commented.
Yeah, I'm sure you did, Longbottom. Probably because she never challenged you.
"Oh, she was nice enough," A.J. said neutrally. "Although it was rather annoying when I wanted references for the Ministry. She ought to push a bit farther. Liqumbaug ended up getting me all the recommendations. You should talk to him about it, Sev - you're in his House, after all, and you're already as good as most of the brewers at the Ministry."
Severus highly doubted he would be able to work at the Ministry after school, unless a miracle occurred. Even then, he doubted even more highly that he would want to get caught up in the political three-ring circus. But, showing an unusual display of tact, he didn't say so. "Maybe I will. He's rather busy right now though. With the Duels and Gathering."
"Oh, that's right! Mr Lupin - Richaden Lupin, I did mention him, didn't I?"
"You're his secretary," Matt offered.
"In apprenticeship. If he approves after next year, you can automatically get a two-year position with the Ministry's brewers instead of starting from the first year," Frank said. "I remember."
Allison had a smirk directed toward her brother.
"That's right. I'm sorry, forgot if I told you that or not. In any case, Mr Lupin did mention they were going on. Ministry's having a monstrous time with political hogwash and foreign relations. Sev, Allie, you're in fifth year, right?" Nods. Neither of the fifth-years at the table were ones for chatting. "Who're you with?"
"I'm partnered with Emily Kertcher, Hufflepuff," Allison said. "Nice enough girl, pretty good at dueling. We don't think we'll do too well, but we'll get a passing grade and neither of us pretend to know what to talk about."
"Do you like it?" Thom asked in his shrill seven-year-old voice.
"It's okay, I guess. And useful. Sev's the one that's good at it."
Severus knew very well that Allison had grudgingly tacked that on, not to compliment him in the least, but to turn the conversation away from her. Which was precisely what he would have done. They were eerily alike sometimes, really.
"At combat, too? All of it?" A.J. asked.
"I can do all of it well enough," Severus said, deliberately taking a bite of potatoes to end the talk of it.
"He's going on to the Gathering. It's practically a given," Allison said, clearly enjoying the process of embarrassing Severus further and further. He wished they would quit; for one, he was trying to go through the dates of Grindelwald's reign in his mind, as he was interested in writing an account of it, and for another, he had a feeling that he'd have to dodge all sorts of annoying questions if they found he who his partner was.
"Really?" Adela said with polite curiosity. Everyone was trying to pretend that they were all happy and comfortable with Severus around during A.J.'s stay, not wanting to illustrate the fact that he was a large part of the reason they were not hopelessly in debt. "Who're you partnered with? I remember having a partner who was very good at it… but I wasn't quite as good and pretty much destroyed her chances."
"No need to worry about that," Allison said, with a casualness she had not taken this fact with at Hogwarts. Severus remembered her stunned face when she had first heard this tidbit of news. "He's partnered with Remus Lupin. Remus's just as good."
Everyone looked rather surprised: A.J. possibly because she worked for his uncle, and the Longbottoms because they knew this was not a Slytherin name.
"Who's that?" Adela asked, with the same feigned nonchalance.
"You know, Remus Lupin. He's in our year, of course. He was the Gryffindor, remember, Adela?"
To their credit, the Longbottoms tried to look unruffled. They honestly, really did. But it was no use. Severus could see the relief - nearly pride - on their faces. And then he scowled. Honestly. It was downright insulting, that's what.
"Er… since when do you know him, Severus?" Mrs Longbottom asked.
His reply was short: "I don't."
"He was such a quiet kid," Frank said, not able to hide all of the surprise he felt. "Nice, too. Somewhat shy. A little mischievous. But nice."
Which, of course, it a roundabout way of saying I'm certainly not, Severus reflected with a hint of amusement.
"I think it's wonderful," Mrs Longbottom spoke up. "You don't often see a Slytherin and a Gryffindor partnered. Now, Alice Jill, what branch of brewing are you planning to get into, exactly?…"
Day: 26 Month: 12 Year: 1976
"We got a sled for Thom and an owl for Matt, you know, since he's going to Hogwarts next year," Adela whispered to Severus abruptly that morning. "And then a couple of sweets and a Gobstone set they can share. That's okay with you, right?"
Severus didn't bother pointing out his say-so meant nothing now, as the boys were already tearing into their presents. In fact, he refused to speak at all.
Out of the older of the crowd, that is, Severus, Allison, Adela, Frank, A.J., and Mrs Longbottom, only the latter two and Allison were receiving any real presents. Allison was still occasionally indulged with new robes, quills, hair-things, and Frank had gotten her a Muggle notebook for her writing. Adela and Frank exchanged small tokens. Mrs Longbottom got the standard presents-for-Mama - awkward and unusable. And A.J., of course, had gotten a scarf from Adela and Allison and a paperweight from Mrs Longbottom as courtesy. Frank, naturally, had given her something quite else altogether.
Quite something else, as a matter of fact. Mrs Longbottom raised her eyebrows at the extravagance, and Severus privately suspected some of the surplus of the funds he had given for the boys' presents had gone to that. It was not opened in front of Matt and Thom, of course, for they had never received anything quite so magnificent even from their affable eldest brother; they were left in the living room over their own gifts when A.J. opened it at the table.
It was a complete and perfect jewelry set. How trite, Severus thought scornfully, but as A.J.'s eyes widened like blue pools of water, he realised he was jealous that her fierce hug of thankfulness was for Frank and not for him.
Severus was always bluntly honest with everyone, including himself, as soon as he had worked through his feelings to find what he had to be bluntly honest with. And now he knew he had begun to like A.J. Boyd in a way beyond friendly fondness and confronted it. Had to deal with it head-on.
And his breath caught as Adela helped her put in one of the silver-and-diamond clips to pull back her thick hair.
So that's what she looked like when her hair was pulled past her shoulders. Not quite as awkward at all.
"Sev!" Allison called impatiently, as if she had been for quite a while. Severus was sent back to reality - a reality in which A.J. and Frank were as good as engaged - with an unpleasant jerk.
"What?" he asked irritably.
"Well, I can see the Christmas spirit is in you, too, Scrooge," she snapped, handing him a package. "An owl for you."
Scrooge again. He was never to escape it. Ignoring the impulse to chew her out a moment, he gave in to strong curiosity. It was a very simple disposable box and addressed only to his name. Severus's spirits soared. Mother. Perhaps this was Mother! No one else would have sent him anything… Father always gave him his presents when they met alone and together… damn it, he thought, blood pounding, why do I have to be here in with every Longbottom around to watch? This was personal!
Reluctantly, he opened it anyway. He'd show Adela and Allison that his mother did care of his existence.
Out into his hands fell The Long Battle, the book he had been reading in short sips and snatches in Maude's Library for months. He stared, logic telling him he was to be disappointed. How could Mother have known he had wanted this?
Of course, his heart said, practically sticking a tongue out at the cool brain, Mother's an Auror.
Not that Aurors like Moody's book, his head shot back.
Shut up, both of you, Snape ordered, and heart and mind fell silent. Hands took over, mechanically. A note was inside the cover.
I suppose I can only hope you haven't gotten this already. If so, the receipt is inside, even though Maude will probably akin it to a library card and throw a fit. Happy Christmas.
Day: 31 Month: 12 Year: 1976
Sirius had been insistent on wanting to stay up all night on New Year's. Remus didn't much mind doing it either way, but Sirius's enthusiasm could be contagious. And he had it planned out to every detail. They had gone for Remus's Check-up earlier that day "so it was out of the way", and now they were going to bed early. Sure, this was unheard-of where Sirius Black was concerned, but he was having no one falling asleep in the middle of things tomorrow night, and he'd need his rest to stay up as well.
From the look Arabella had given Sirius, Remus concluded Sirius had never been in danger of not being able to survive New Year's without rest.
Although Sirius also lamented that school would start in a few days and begged to sleep out in the barn. Arabella, who, as Sirius's godmother and long-time guardian, had put up with a bunch of crazy ideas, tried to draw the line here.
"Sirius - it's below freezing point."
"Well, yeah." Sirius had smiled. "It is the dead of winter, isn't it? Stands to reason."
They had arranged a compromise that involved the attic instead of the barn ("why you boys would ever want to stay in those wretched sort of places instead of a warm regular bed…") plenty of blankets, six or so layers of clothes, and every single heating charm everyone could remember or find. Unbeknownst to Arabella, Sirius changed into his dog form, and although he had then happily siphoned off many of the blankets to Remus, the other boy envied the Animagus.
The dog was sound asleep, sprawled over Remus's feet, despite a roll of Remus's eyes at this action. Sirius had merely been amused, as his dog-grin showed clearly. But Remus could not do the same. Too many thoughts were chasing themselves around in his head. Just as bad, the scars of the saere on his face were beginning to hurt again. When his mind had been on other things - and Sirius certainly was distracting - it had been only a dull sting.
That, of course, was the point, a reminder that lingered long after the Check-up. There's been your warning, werewolf, the likes of Lloyd Panter would have said. His words were involuntarily repeated over in Remus's mind: You're not a person, and definitely not in the position to make those decisions. You're a dog, and for your disobedience, you will be treated like one -
Stop it. Remus cut into the recollection as sharply as possible. Even under Dr Chandler's fair reign over the Werewolf Support Unit, they were still little more than a way to restrict werewolves in disguise of doctor's examinations, and they always had a disconcerting effect on him.
He clenched his teeth as a new wave of pain washed over him. Sirius would work himself into a frenzy if he knew how much it hurt, and had nearly raised a scene just seeing those marks when Remus emerged from the Check-up. Best that he never suspect a thing.
And then that odd note to "Jobey" and the entire McPherson's Solution mess. Remus was simply too tired to re-hash the details yet again. Hopefully it would work itself over, like most of the fiascos the Solutioners created.
It was also the anniversary of his parents' funeral, which made things little easier. He still missed them so hard that it hurt nearly as much as the saere.
In short, Remus had a nasty meeting with insomnia that night.
Finally he could stand it no longer. In addition to being cold and restless, he was also getting hungry. Little by little he squirmed out from under Sirius, which was some feat, as he was a light sleeper. He opened the door as slowly and softly as possible - Sirius stirred but did not awaken - and slipped downstairs.
To his surprise and no little discomfort, Arabella was at the dining room table, sewing away at some of the bedsheets that, Remus realised guiltily, he and Sirius had ripped while in the midst of a rather raucous pillow fight.
She looked up, alarm in her features. "Are you all right, Remus?"
"I'm fine," Remus said uncomfortably. "Just couldn't sleep well."
Her eyes were still shrewd. "Get a glass of water." Arabella Figg had cure-alls for every situation, and this was her favorite panacea. Remus did so, and Arabella immediately invited (although with her it was a bit of an order) back into the dining room. As the soft cackling of the fireplace was easing his nerves, Remus would have been happy to do so if he did not feel at odds.
"Anything you need?" she asked abruptly, pulling the needle in and out with a dizzying speed.
"Oh, no. I'm fine, honestly." He conveniently took another sip of water.
Arabella sniffed. "I told Sirius it was too chilly up there. Catch your deaths of cold, you will." This was her form of affection for her godson and distant nephew.
There was another long silence. Remus again took in the details of the old farmhouse. Something about it had a calming effect of homeliness. There was a similar air around Hogwarts, but it was too bustling at times. Blackwell Farm was comfortable. An image of the immaculate and very cold marble of Lupin Manor flashed through his mind. He didn't miss it at all.
"This hasn't anything to do with your Check-up today - or, shall I say, yesterday - does it?" Arabella continued. Her questions were blunt; her voice was oddly gentle.
Remus hesitated, weighing the factors of hidden inquiries. "Not really."
"Neither Sirius nor I think any the worse of you for any of that."
There wasn't really a way to respond to this. "Thank you."
"None of that," Arabella said. "Goodness knows it's only right, and it's a pity some wouldn't see it. You're Sirius's friend and've done much for him, and somehow I'm rather fond of you myself."
Arabella sure knew how to put someone at a loss. Remus attempted lightheartedness and nodded at the cloth. "In spite of the occasional pillow fight."
"Maybe because of it. It gets lonely without Sirius here, and James old enough for his parents to take him all over the world. I used to have both of them here all the time. It was tough when Sirius went to school. Too quiet. I missed him dreadfully for a while… although I did enjoy hearing myself think. You're welcome over here at any time."
"Er, thanks," Remus said again.
Turning a sheet to the other side of the hem, Arabella half-grinned. "So what are you thinking of that brought you down here?"
"I didn't know you were up."
"Nothing much. Just restless."
"Well, anytime you need me, I'll be ready for you." Arabella managed to speak around two pins in her mouth. "The grand phase of teenagerdom is a rough time, and you've got a couple of extra burdens."
Remus just wished she could stop referring to them, although he felt grateful for the understanding he rarely received.
"Particularly with your parents gone," she continued, unheeding of his silent request. "Were you thinking of them?"
It was difficult to withhold it from her when she had so openly talked of her own feelings. "Yes."
"I only met them once. Melinda and Audim were nice."
"They were wonderful."
"A few words at a time I reckon I'm getting you to talk."
Unfortunately, this had the effect of making Remus immediately try to clam up again. "Talking doesn't bring them back."
"No," Arabella agreed. A stick in the fireplace collapsed with a pat against smoldering ashes. "It keeps you from ever forgetting them."
Remus could not contest that statement and fell silent for a moment. Arabella placidly kept on mending.
"I'm almost glad I got bitten," he said, cutting into the expectant pause. "Before that I barely knew them. They were so busy, and Athena was always fighting with them. I would just run off and stay out of everyone's way. At the funeral I realised that afterwards we began to show real feeling again. I grew more dependant on them, and they worried more about me. We grew closer. We couldn't ignore each other anymore." I learned what the words "I love you" mean, Remus thought, but it was not something he would say aloud. There were some lines not to be crossed. Not over any male fifteen-year-old's dead body, as there was a fine difference between openness and mushiness. Bad enough he had even thought it.
"That's how it's supposed to be." Arabella spoke with a knowledgeable tone. After a while, she looked up again. "Are you tired now?"
Without sensing it, he had become so. "Yes."
"G'night, Remus." She stood at the same time Remus did to take his glass. Remus handed it to her and suddenly embraced her quickly. "Thank you," he whispered, and, embarrassed at his sudden display of emotion, hurried upstairs without looking back.
Arabella put the empty glass in the sink, smiling softly.