Meeting With a Cousin

Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.

'INSPECTED AND PASSED BY THE HOGWARTS HIGH INQUISITOR'

In that case, Severus really wasn't certain if he wanted to read the letter. Anything that could pass muster with Umbridge could be of no use at all, and Severus was not particularly burdened by casual correspondences. Except with some of his relatives, and they weren't casual and they were not anything that Severus looked forward to with breathless anticipation.

But it would look highly suspicious if he didn't open the letter now, and although another interrogation with Dolores Umbridge wasn't quite the last thing he wanted… it made his top ten list. So he tried very hard to ignore the pandemonium that was becoming par for the course in the Great Hall these days and read.

His interest heightened significantly as he saw the letter was from some imaginary cousin chatting pleasantly about some probably equally imaginary holiday in the States with references to an imaginarily shared past. The formatting on the letter was off-kilter, probably deliberately so. A code was buried in there - he wasn't sure which side it was from, but obviously there was something else in here. He scanned it and saw none of the Order's tip-off words. So it was from his other country club apparently…

Eyes rested on the second-to-last paragraph.

Listen, my hand is growing positively cramped. What I wanted to suggest, you
understand, is for us to meet one night and catch up on things; we've become
positively strangers. Surely you can spare one of your evenings from your
inexhaustible supply of potions and essays-to-be-marked? There's
nothing like a quick break to refresh your mind…

When he thought about it, it came as a shock that this escaped Umbridge's attention.

In any case, if the werewolf thought that stamping his name on the meeting was any incentive for Severus, he was sorely mistaken.

And that's something you yourself used to say. (No, it wasn't, that was for the benefit of Umbridge and a way for Lupin to work in the 'n'.) Meet at the Three Broomsticks Friday evening at eight, shall we?

The note was signed Rudolph Strout - the Strouts being first cousins to the Snapes.

Severus considered not going, because Lupin had not used the Order's tip-off words and could make a case that he, Severus, had been concerned as to whether it was a hoax, etc., etc. But then he reconsidered. He couldn't play games like that in the midst of their current situation. Perhaps Lupin actually had something important to say - not that Severus was counting on it.

Then he scowled, memory alerting him to links in the chain of events. It had only been a scant few weeks since Potter had gotten into his Pensieve and Severus had ended the Occlumency. So that's what this was about, most likely. How Potter was able to contact anyone about this was a mystery - inspected and passed by the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, indeed - but then Potter had more conniving in his brain than Dolores Umbridge ever would. (Severus did not call it 'intelligence' in reference to either of them.) And it wasn't as if she hadn't enough on her hands for her to leave him time to sneak off an owl or even use her fireplace.

Chaos reigned in Hogwarts as of late. The Weasley twins had begun it, and eager volunteers from every House were continuing it. Even Severus's Slytherins - some of them - were not immune to the delights of torturing the unctuous and dreadfully annoying new 'Headmistress'. Severus had to frown on it as a matter of principle, not just professionally but personally. It was not a very conductive atmosphere for learning. But then he had mentally thrown his hands into the air. The way the curriculum was being watered down, there was less and less of anything useful for the students to learn anyway. And after her many sweet, simpering conversations laced with accusations and innuendo, Severus couldn't deny being entertained at her attempts to call herself the Head of Hogwarts.

In fact, the Sorting Hat's warning at the beginning of the year came back to him sharply. Well, the Houses were to be united, were they? Nothing could have brought them together more. Nowadays amongst those who were troublemaking in the name of anti-Umbridge, there were so House distinctions. You didn't tattletale on your worst enemy, if they were causing mayhem for the greater good. Severus didn't necessarily have to approve in order to appreciate the irony of it.

*

With a fit of perversity, he decided to go but didn't deign Cousin Rudolph with a reply.

*

Severus had to admit to himself that he liked the walk in the cool and dark evening. It was a nice relief from the noise and bedlam of the castle, and the lifelessness of his dungeons.

The Three Broomsticks was very crowded, as it would be, on a Friday evening. Severus went taut as he entered, hating the swarms of people and the rowdiness and the noise and the smell of the place.

Lupin was waiting at a strategic table - not in the very corner, but very near a corner, and shielded from the rest of the pub by an unruly lot of customers on the other side. Someone else - Severus couldn't know who, and didn't need to - was there, listening and spying on them.
Severus went over unwillingly and with one of his most effective scowls.

'You do know that we shall be thrown out if we don't bother to buy anything?' were his first, not-so-encouraging, words.

'Order what you like,' Lupin responded. 'I gave Madam Rosmerta a token.' The words a token had significance, although Lupin was not quite an idiot enough to say it aloud. The tokens were signs of the Order.

'What does she know?'

'Dumbledore did her a favour, and she knows the token points to him.'

'So you're depriving the woman of her patronage. Such inconsideration.'

'Couldn't afford it.'

Severus raised an eyebrow delicately. 'Not with the entire Black fortune at your disposal?'

'We can only get at bits of it at a time before the wrong people are alerted.'

Severus didn't hear all of the response; they weren't leaning in, so as to give the chat an appearance of casualness and ease, but they were talking in very low voices that made one rely on lip-reading more often than not.

'Well, why don't you get to the point of why I'm sitting here with you,' he said snappishly.

Lupin obliged in a low but steady voice. 'You know how important teaching Harry Occlumency is. Certainly I don't have to tell you that.'

'I cannot teach anything to someone who does not want to learn it. Trust me on that score, as I've been doing it for fourteen years.'

'With a great deal of success.'

Severus's glare could have cut through granite, and his voice grew equally dangerous. 'Do not attempt to flatter me, Lupin.'

'I don't have to. The records are there. The percent of students who garner a Potions O.W.L.s has significantly increased - '

' - if you're here to throw statistics at me - '

' - and the N.E.W.T.s students almost always pull an "E" or better. It's a fact, Severus. I'm not pretending to agree on how exactly you achieve those results - '

'Get to the point.'

'The point?' Lupin was all innocence. 'You've taught Potions to the most reluctant of students. Why can't you do it with Harry?'

'He refuses. He hasn't the discipline. He likes having those dreams, he likes being important enough to have them - '

'Yes, I'll bet he's curious,' agreed Lupin, not too quickly but not too hesitantly. 'But I think there are other problems. His surname, his appearance - the cardinal sin is curiosity, of course. Going into someone's Pensieve - '

'Is a despicable act, a wanton invasion of privacy.'

'Exactly,' Lupin said.

Severus was growing more and more irritated. 'Exactly?'

'I don't endorse that, Severus. Truly I don't. I think you have a right to be angry.'

'But I'm sure neither you nor his godfather thought to scold him for it?' Severus asked archly.

Score one for Snivellus, he reflected darkly. Lupin was taken aback.

'Well, to tell you the truth, we didn't get around to it - '

'How typical,' Severus sneered.

'It was a very hurried, rushed conversation.'

'Excuses - ' he spat.

'We were interrupted and had to end the connection prematurely.' Lupin had regained his composure. 'Perhaps you'd be interested in what occurred before that, however?'

'Between you and Potter?'

Lupin smiled wryly. 'And Black.'

'Most definitely not.'

'Severus, he looks like James, but you insist on confusing them. James is dead, and Harry is a far cry from his father.'

'Oh, yes, certainly. James Potter would never have been caught, and if he had, he would have sweet-talked his professor around.'

'That's just it.' Lupin was talking very quickly now. 'Can't you possibly try to understand this? Harry was never aware of James's personality, especially not at fifteen. Now he is, and the reason he risked expulsion to speak with Sirius is because he was highly upset.'

'I did try to tell him,' Severus said coolly. 'He risked expulsion on that occasion as well.'

'He was appalled,' Lupin continued, ignoring the interruption. 'Rather disappointed in all of us, I daresay, and I can't deny he had reason to be.'

'My heart is bleeding.'

'Harry is many things. Some are negative. But I assure you, he is not a bully. He's had too much experience being the victim.'

'Ah, yes, I saw that. That, too, was heart-rending. Do you know, I've seen those great terrible bullies? Much more so than I would have had Potter actually tried to learn Occlumency. And since I don't know their names, I identified each one with one of your lot.' Severus was deliberate with every word, but Lupin didn't seem very shaken.

'I daresay you did. And could.'

'I think it's nothing more than poetic justice.'

This hit the target. Lupin never took his eyes from Severus's, but it took a moment for him to find his voice. When he did, it was more ragged than usual.

'I can't believe that you of all people would blame a person for his father's misdeeds.'

'I assure you, you are mistaken.' Severus was composed. 'That is not my agenda.'

'Then why else would you continue to treat Harry with such unnecessary antagonism?'

'He deserves it,' replied Severus with decision.

'For what? Being fifteen and imperfect?'

'For arrogance.'

To his surprise, Lupin laughed. 'I suppose the difference between your arrogance and Harry's is that you earned it?'

'Yes.'

That stopped the werewolf's amusement. 'He's not arrogant. His self-esteem is dangerously low at times. Doesn't have a very lofty opinion of himself, not for a nationally-renown celebrity.'
'I think that I've known Potter for longer than you have.'

'I think I've spent more time actually trying to know him for who he is.'

'I think you have a bias.'

'Maybe. I think you have one as well.'

'This conversation is going nowhere, as I could have predicted. If you don't have anything more enlightening to say, werewolf, then I suggest we part ways before wasting any more valuable time.'

'We did get a little off-track,' Lupin admitted, unruffled. 'Severus, you need to continue teaching him Occlumency.'

'He's making no less progress now than he did when with me,' Severus replied, standing.

'And now he has no chance of making progress.'

Severus turned back to him. 'Lupin, if you're certain it's so important, then why don't you teach him? As I recall, it wouldn't be the first time you showed him advanced magic.'

'Dolores Umbridge would have me killed on sight if I set one foot on Hogwarts grounds,' Lupin said dryly. 'Quite apart from the physical impossibility of it, you're better than I am. You know all this.'

'I believe I already told you to not attempt to flatter me. It will get you nowhere.'

'Severus, I'd be laying it on quite thick if I were trying to flatter you. I'm merely stating facts.'

Severus started to walk out. Lupin hurried to follow him.

'You don't know when you've lost, do you?' Severus snapped impatiently.

'I don't know how you became so unreasonable. You used to be clever.'

'It must have cost you a lot to say that,' snorted Severus. 'I can scarcely believe you remembered that you were a Gryffindor long enough to actually speak up.'

Lupin fell silent.

'Nothing to say now? That's always been your style, though, hasn't it. Head down, mouth closed. Because if you said something, why, gasp, someone might get the idea that you're not perfect! Or perhaps your precious, can-do-no-wrong friends might not like you anymore!'

It was a good thing that they were out of the Three Broomsticks by now. Severus's voice was raised - unintentionally, of course, but he was nearly yelling all the same.

'I know,' Lupin said quietly. 'You're right. It's my worst fault.' He met Severus's eye again. 'But I am trying, which is really more than can be said for you.'

And for once in his life, Severus almost forgave Remus Lupin for the crime of existing. He had never been closer to admiring him.

'Well now, aren't we perceptive,' he said, thick with sarcasm, and then he employed the good old standby, the red herring. And it wasn't even a tactic, perhaps, for the moment the issue really and truly bothered him, irrational though it might be. 'And would you get a new cloak, Lupin? I'm so tired of looking at it! I thought I had finished suffering it two years ago!'

'Oh, but you didn't get rid of me because you were irritated with my cloak.' Amusement was evident.

'Oh didn't I.' More sarcasm.

'Of course not.'

'And I'm sure you know my reasons better than I myself.'

'Possibly. So what about the Occlumency lessons?'

Lupin was not to be deterred.

'My answer is no. I kept those memories aside because I cannot tolerate people who know of them. It's Potter's fault that he went in, and it will be his fault if the Dark Lord uses his weakness in that respect against him.'

'You could take those memories back from him.'

'Perhaps I omitted something. I also cannot tolerate people who would actually go into someone else's Pensieve on the sneak, without permission.'

'It was a mistake born of a fault that time will cure.'

'In that much he does resemble his father.'

'I told you, Harry isn't James.' Lupin paused. 'He's a much better person.'

Severus turned to him again, teeth clenched and wand pointed. 'Listen to me as I speak loudly and clearly, Lupin! I - said - no. And now I am going back to Hogwarts, and, as you pointed out, following me there is not in your best interest!'

'My best interest is protecting Harry, and, by extension, the world,' Lupin said steadily, and remained motionless as Severus turned again and began a fuming, furious walk back to the castle that consisting of much stomping.

*

The Umbridge woman was waiting for him at the entrance. Severus ignored her completely and attempted to walk past.

'Hem… hem.'

He disregarded that, too. She would have to actually employ the English language if she wished to speak with him.

And that she did. 'Out so late, Professor Snape?' she asked sweetly.

'It's eight forty-five,' Severus replied curtly. 'I don't believe the faculty has been revoked that right yet?'

'No, no… of course teachers are allowed to employ their free time in whatever - legal - manner they please.'

'Well, I believe you know exactly where I was and who I was with, as apparently you read our letters, and the one from my cousin Rudolph was "inspected and passed".'

He would never, ever tell Lupin this, but he got satisfaction in knowing that he had spelled things out right under her very nose, and still she had let the letter from one of the dreaded part-humans, a Dark Creature into the bargain, get to her probationary Death Eater professor. This knowledge gave him the self-control to look at her evenly.

'Yes, I did read that letter.' She paused significantly, and her voice grew quieter. 'Your cousin referred to several mutual childhood memories.' Another pause. Voice quieter still. 'Not, however, to any shared Muggle raids or salutes to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.'

Oh, getting daring, was she? 'Imagine that,' was all he said.

'And what's that supposed to mean, Professor Snape?' Umbridge queried sharply, drawing herself up with some mockery of authority.

Severus gave her a long and deliberate looking over, taking in her flyaway hair, sooty, sweaty face, and robes torn from wrestling with another niffler. She reddened under his gaze.

'What's it supposed to mean?' he repeated, in one of his more dangerous tones. 'Simply that I don't understand why Rudolph would.'

'You don't seem to be in a very good humour, considering you just had a pleasant chat with your cousin.'

'We had a disagreement.'

'You did not write him a reply with your affirmative in regards to his invitation.'

'No need. Rudolph doesn't take "no" for an answer.' He continued, seeing the chance that all skillful liars would. Untruth that held a grain of truth was always good. 'That was what led to our disagreement.'

Now she was caught in the web he had woven in less than a dozen words.

'Well, you just be very careful, Professor,' she said, girlish voice threatening in its very lack of a threatening tone. She gave a little giggle. 'We wouldn't want to find any reason to have to ask our Potions Master to leave, now would we!'

'What reason might that be?'

'Just remember what I said about how you spend your free evenings.'

Severus knew that he shouldn't say this, but Umbridge was simply begging it. 'Oh, really? And what do you intend to do? Sign an order for Filch to have permission to whip me?'

She looked at him with her bland eyes. 'Yes, well, there's always that possibility,' she said softly. 'Good night to you, Professor Snape.'

He was mentally berating himself for putting any ideas into her head. But if it came to that, caution and the war and Dumbledore and the Dark Lord be damned to the iciest of netherhells! He'd leave. That simple.

With every ounce of dignity he had, he strode coolly past her into the havoc of the castle.

End