They walked down the corridor together. Just before they reached the door he let go off her hand and shot her a brief look. "Are you sure you want to go in there?" his eyes questioned her. A determined nod was the only answer he got. Severus let out a resigned sigh. "Very well, my love," he said and offered her his arm. "But may I point out that this will well turn out to be one of the most gruesome experiences of our lives."
She smiled at him and shook her head. "As always you're being overly dramatic. Surely battling the Dark Lord must have been a bit more taxing than facing a gathering of former students."
"At this point I will refrain from protesting and just look forward to the pleasure of saying I told you so afterwards," he reached for the door handle. From the inside they could already make out the telltale noise of glasses clinging in a salute against the constant background noise of several people engrossed in conversation and soft music.
When they entered the room briefly all conversation ceased, only to reassume again with more candor merely seconds later.
"Is it just me or were people actually gaping at us when we entered?" her voice quivered ever so slightly from suppressed irritation. As always whenever she was irritated, he tended to be amused. She shot him a sidelong glance to verify her suspicion taking in his aquiline profile and the slight upward curve of the left corner of his mouth.
He subtly tugged at her arm to make her start moving. After all it wasn't the wisest course of action blocking the entrance when you didn't want to draw any more attention to yourself. As they made their way across the room towards the headmistress and the small group of teachers surrounding her the crowd more than willingly parted to make them room. Abigail was oddly reminded of Noah parting the red sea.
Of course, Severus couldn't refrain from making a sarcastic comment. As they crossed the room he quietly spoke to her, his voice only loud enough for her to hear, his feature carefully neutral. "You must apologize their dreadful behaviour. It's one thing hearing that the greasy git of the dungeons, as my students so loving called me, is supposed to entertain a relationship with a woman, it's another matter entirely, however, seeing this woman with your own eyes. You have to give them credit, my dear, for not taking any longer to eye you up. After all a lot of important questions had to be answered in just a few moments. Most of them probably along the lines of...has he drugged her? Is she here on her own accord? What is she wearing? And most importantly, what does she see in him?"
She was about to answer him, but she had to swallow down all those words of reassurance and affection because they had reached their destination.
"I didn't expect to see you two here to night, though I'm pleasantly surprised that Severus could be persuaded to come after all," Minerva McGonagall greeted them. The second half of her sentence directly specifically at Abigail. There was a telltale glint in the old woman's eyes that was bordering on mischievous.
"Well, after you forwarded your invitation to this event…with so much enthusiasm we could hardly decline," Abigail responded. By now the headmistress positively looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. Abigail would call the fact that Minerva knowingly dragged Severus into situations like this despite knowing he detested social gatherings a form of motherly teasing, Severus, however, would have doubtlessly called it sadistic glee.
"I hope it didn't take too much convincing," Minerva conspiratorially touched lowered her voice and briefly squeezed Abigail's arm. The headmistress was in oddly good spirits today.
"Well…," Abigail consciously decided on leaving the rest of sentence to Minerva's imagination because she could all to well feel Severus's gaze on her face.
"To be honest, Minerva. It took more time for Abigail to choose a dress than to convince me to come." He leant in closer to Abigail. The next sentence was determined for her ears only. "Remember your promise."
Despite the effect his words had on her, a faint blush was already starting to spread on her cheeks, she didn't miss a beat. "You're right. I took quite a while today. But unlike you, love, most people's wardrobe varies in colour."
"And yet you chose the black dress," he smirked at her condescendingly.
"Are you two quite finished with that constant bantering of yours?" Minerva interrupted their conversation. Her voice was lacking the distinct sharpness it usually had when she addressed students, but it still commanded enough authority to make Severus and Abigail shut up instantly. Minerva had already overheard their verbal sparring at the dinner table tonight and though she had gotten used to Abigail's presence at Hogwarts, which she by the way regarded as a blessing because it had made the usually gruff Potion Master less abrasive and more easy to deal with, there was only so much of young people's frivolities she could take.
"Yes, sorry, Minerva." Abigail smiled her in an apologetic manner.
"This celebration is in honour of the end of the war. Of those who fought, those who survived and those who died. Now this is not supposed to be about sadness and tears, we all had our share of that, thank you very much, it's about starting a new life. Celebrating life. People are here to see you Severus, they want to talk to you and to Abgail too, of course."
"And pray tell would what would we have to say to each other?" Severus enquired.
"Oh, I imagine quite a lot," the old woman smiled. "Now shush and be gone!" She motioned into the vague direction of the punch bowl and before either of them could answer anything Minerva was gone again.
"Has the headmistress just shushed me?" Abgail raised her left eyebrow skeptically.
"Apparently so," he smirked maliciously. "Somebody sooner or later had to."
She couldn't resist sticking out her tongue at him before she turned around to walk away and help herself to a glass of punch. She was surprised to find him following her. He usually wasn't that clingy. She stopped to look at him in surprise. He held her gaze unflinchingly.
"Don't tell me you're going to follow me around all evening just because you don't want to talk to your former students..."
"I don't know whatever got that idea in your head. I was simply being polite."
"Yeah, polite," she let out an unladylike snort, but let it slip for now.
She had just poured herself a glass of punch when she felt Severus's hand on her arm. "Brace yourself!" Whatever this was going to mean from a man who had fought the Dark Lord had her guessing. At least it didn't leave her with a happy feeling of anticipation in the pit of her stomach.
"Professor Snape," she heard a male voice address Severus. She turned around and was greeted by the enthusiastically smiling face of a young man no older than twenty, maybe nineteen. He was average looking and had an intriguing air of shyness and youthful boldness about him. What was she supposed to brace herself for? For being greeted politely? He seemed pleasant enough. She offered him an encouraging smile.
"Mr. Longbotton." Severus's brief nod came as a predictable response to the younger man's greeting.
A brief pause followed during which Abigail waited in vain to be introduced to said Mr. Longbotton. After it became clear that Severus was apparently not ready to remedy that fact she decided to introduce herself. "I'm Abigail Carter, by the way. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Longbotton."
They awkwardly shook hands. The boys palm felt quite sweaty. Apparently it had cost him some courage to walk up to them like that, so she tried to be nice and make things easier on him. Severus seemed to be determined to do the exact opposite of that as he just kept on staring at the poor boy. "So you're one of Severus's former students, I suppose…"
"Yes, yes, I'm studying to be an Auror now."
"Wow, that's quite impressive."
"Yes, quite," Severus remarked not without an excessive amount of sarcasm.
Abigail decided to ignore him. "You're name. It sounds familiar…"
"It does?" The young man seemed to become even more nervous upon hearing that, if that was at all possible.
"Yes, Longbottom…," she chewed her lip pensively. Severus shot her a warning glance as if he wanted to order her not to remember. And precisely in that moment she did. "Longbottom! Weren't you the one…the one who found Severus back when…," she made a vague gesture towards her throat with her hand.
"Yes," Neville answered timidly.
Abigail's next move hit both Severus Snape and Neville Longbotton completely unprepared. She quickly disposed of her drink by shoving it into Severus's hand and hugged the completely confused boy to her.
"Thank you," she said looking him straight in the face when she let go off him again moments later. He looked utterly dazed, if not a bit afraid. Like a puppy that was seconds away from being kicked. Maybe she would have to repeat herself in order to get through to him. "Really, Neville, thank you," she said again and then stepped back.
She shot Severus a stern look. It took a couple of seconds and he rolled her eyes at her before he finally decided to speak up himself. "I guess I have to thank you as well." His words came out as an angry snarl that was barely understandable but at least it was as close to a heartfelt "thanks" as was to be expected of a man like him.
The young man just nodded and smiled shyly. The situation was obviously a bit too much for him. "I'm going to…," he started. "Well, I must be….Anyway." He pointed awkwardly over his shoulder obviously to where his friends were standing waiting for him.
"Of course," she volunteered. "It was nice meeting you, Neville."
"Likewise," he smiled genuinely.
She watched him as he scurried back to his friends. They readily welcomed him back in her midst, clapping him on the shoulder like he just accomplished something great like slaying a dragon.
"Wow, you must really be a terrifying teacher. That one was seconds away from wetting himself." She took a step closer to him and narrowed her eyes as if to make him out better. "You don't seem quite that scary up close."
"Well, you've just had the pleasure of meeting the worst student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching in my long years at Hogwarts."
"Really? He can't have been that bad if they allow him to become an Auror now."
"Apparently they have lowered their standards considerably."
She just laughed at him and playfully squeezed his arm. "Hey, what's up with you tonight? I haven't seen you that tense in irritable in quite some time."
He sighed. "I told you that those kind of gatherings just aren't exactly my favourite pastime…"
"I know that. But last Yule Ball wasn't quite as bad. Is it because of Potter? Or because of that boy we met just now?"
"No," he paused to think, "No, it isn't. Sooner or later I would have had to face them again. You were probably right when you said now is as good a time as any. You can't outrun the past. Especially not now that they found out you're not some harpy who's going to chew off their heads as soon as they approach us," he threw her a sarcastic little smirk. "Can't you be a bit less…"
"Less charming, beautiful, wise and witty?" she volunteered.
"I would have probably worded it differently," she scowled at him and he quickly caught himself towards the end of the sentence, "but yes, basically all of the above," he finally said in mock exasperation.
"So your plan for the rest of the night, Severus? You do know that Minerva expects us to stay at least another hour?"
"I'm well aware of that," he announced darkly.
"I think it's actually quite nice meeting some of your former students."
"Do you know? Well, why don't you go talk to some of them while I'll be lurking in some dark corner until we have fulfilled our duty?"
"So that's your definition of our respective duties. Very interesting. Apparently my duty is talking while yours is lurking."
"Well, we all have our talents…" he smiled at her humorlessly. "I don't want to risk running into Potter so you won't mind if I…"
"Go hide in some dark shadow?" she supplied. "Not at all. I can't believe we are having this conversation just now…Are we really?"
"Just don't leave without me."
"What do you take me for? Some heartless bastard?"
She disapprovingly narrowed her eyes at him. "Which I know for a fact you aren't. So don't try to prove me otherwise."
"Duly noted." He briefly squeezed her hand before he left. When he let go his fingers caressed hers. It was a fleeting touch and barely noticeable. Just as he meant it to be.
So Abigail was left to her own devices. And just as Severus had feared only moments later Harry Potter did indeed turn up. His arrival caused quite the commotion among the students. He had a pretty girl at his side. A red-head, maybe one or two years younger than he was. She watched the young man as he made his way through the crowd. People were patting him on the back, smiling at him, enthusiastically squeezing his hand. Just like he deserved.
The open friendliness and warmth that greeted Harry Potter made Abigail feel jealous on Severus's behave. People were less ready to show him the same sympathy. Of course, his demeanor was partly to blame for that. That and his past. Some sins could simply not be erased from collective memory. To know the whole truth about Severus Snape you needed to look more closely, listen to the whole story and not only just to the beginning or the end. People sometimes lacked the patience for that which was sad but understandable. She pensively swiveled around the punch in her glass. The liquid was almost as red as wine, but tasted sweet and like berries. She took another sip from her drink.
Her talk with Harry Potter was brief but polite. Introductions were made, he even enquired after Severus and seemed honestly disappointed when she couldn't tell him where to find him. She just apologetically shrugged her shoulders. "At least I'm glad to see you, Harry. I'll give him your regards when I'll next see him."
"Which is undoubtedly going to be rather soon…"
"Yes, seeing as we live together that can hardly be avoided," she smiled jokingly.
Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. He and Ginny exchanged surprised glances. "Apparently you took that advice I gave you back at St. Mungus very seriously. You must have taken a very close second look at him or else your opinion of him wouldn't have changed so drastically."
"Still looking. He's a very difficult man to figure out." Her eyes were sparkling conspiratorially.
"That's the understatement of the year." At that they shared one last laugh together and then he and his girlfriend walked off to greet their other friends.
Actually the rest of the evening turned out to be rather pleasant, that is the rest of the hour they had planned to stay. She was just involved in pleasant chatter with an elderly woman, the grandmother of Hannah Abbot, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She didn't even have to turn around to know it was Severus.
"Oh, my dear, apparently your dear husband has finally found us," the older woman cooed delightedly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Abbot, but he's not my husband."
The old woman frowned. "Not? But you're living together? Under the same roof?" The irritated undertone in Mrs. Abbot's voice was hard to overhear. In many ways the Wizards were more traditional and old-fashioned than Muggles. Being a child of both worlds, Abigail sometimes tended to forget that. But people were always quick to remind her.
"Not everything has to go according to tradition. These are modern times, Mrs. Abbot. Among Muggles, for example, living together without being married has long become socially acceptable. What if you find out after ten odd years or so that you've changed so much that you don't fit together anymore?"
"Do you really think so, my dear?"
"Are you really asking me whether I believe in love or not? Isn't that are far too personal question? We've only known each other for ten minutes." Abigail laughed nervously and rubbed the back of her neck. She was all too well aware of the fact that Severus was still standing behind her.
"Indulge me. I'm an old woman. I don't have much time to lose."
"Alright," she took a deep breath. "If you must know… I do believe in love, but I just can't bring myself to believe in marriage."
"What a pity…I hope you both agree on that fact," Mrs. Abbot threw Severus a questioning gaze as if you wanted to tell him to finally speak up and make his opinions known.
"I'm not about to share my innermost thoughts on a topic so private with a stranger I've just met, if that's what you wanted to know. Now if you will excuse us…" Severus's well chosen words ended their conversation rather abruptly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Abbot," Abigail apologized on Severus's and her behalf. "But if you do feel the need to continue this conversation you know where to find me. My bookshop is in Diagon Alley. It's called 'Colliding Worlds'. Feel free to stop by any time."
"Maybe I will, Ms. Carter," the old woman said to Abigail with a warm smile while she was shaking her hand. After his rude remark Severus didn't rank quite so highly in her good graces. He was only bestowed with a lingering dark glance.
"Surprisingly it wasn't as bad as you said it would be," Abigail announced when they finally stepped out on the corridor. But maybe she had spoken too soon because he only glowered at her and muttered something in comprehensible to himself.
"What?" she stopped walking and shot him a questioning gaze. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he snarled at her.
"Nothing!" she looked at him with wide eyes. "It doesn't look and sound like nothing to me."
"Alright, so apparently we have to talk things out again," he rolled his eyes in annoyance. Without any further ado he grabbed her and dragged her behind him, down the corridor, away from laughter and conversation, up several flights of stairs. She just let it happen, because she knew better than to protest. It would only make him more irritable if that was at all possible. Maybe she had managed to put her foot in it again…With her luck she quite definitely had and so it was best to be patient.
She was broken out of her reverie by the protesting croak of an owl. "The owlery? You drag me up to the owlery to have a serious talk? What's next the Shrieking Shack?"
"It's either here or nowhere at all. At least here we'll have some privacy."
"Alright. Fine. What's crawled up your ass this time?" she crossed her arms over her chest. Her patience had already been wearing thin on the way up the stairs and his rude comment from before had been the last straw.
"You dare ask me that?" His voice rose a bit in anger. The grey owl next to him took off with a reproachful shriek, while Abigail remained unfazed by his temper. Living with him for over six months they already had had their fair share of rows, so she had grown accustomed to it.
"Of course, I dare. That's the point of this whole conversation isn't it."
"I don't know whether this conversation has a point at all. Actually I've come to wonder whether any conversation with you has a point." His words shocked and stunned her into speechlessness momentarily. They hurt. Usually when they argued they shied away from verbal blows that went below the belt. This time, obviously, all bets were off.
"Maybe I have misjudged you all of this time," he continued, actually managing to sound disappointed and angry at the same time. "Your intentions don't seem to be what I thought them to be."
"My intentions? What?" It slowly started to dawn on her what exactly they had been talking about. "Is this about what I said to Mrs. Abbot back there?" She asked incredulously.
"Was it not your true opinion you spoke?"
"It was just something said to a stranger. Small talk at a party, nothing more."
"Answer my question."
"What if it was?"
"Then apparently I seem to be under some misunderstanding concerning your character," he said not without a certain amount of regret in his voice.
How did they get from being a relatively happy couple to almost breaking up in the course of mere hours, Abigail wondered. "But what does that have to do with whether I believe in marriage or not?"
"Oh, don't be so daft, woman!" He took a step closer to her, his eyes sparkling dangerously in the dim twilight. For a moment she was almost afraid he was considering pushing her over the edge of the tower. The way he snarled his next words confirmed her in that suspicion. "You practically said to that woman back there that no relationship is meant to last. That sooner or later we all change or minds! That love is just some passing fancy with an expiration date of about ten years into the future! As a consequence I deduced that you don't believe our relationship is going to last. So what's the point in prolonging this misery and waiting another nine years when you already seem to know that it's not going to work out between the both of us?"
She sighed briefly alternating in her desperation between hysterical laughter and tears. What was she supposed to answer to that? How was she supposed to salvage the situation? Was it salvageable after all? "What are you asking me here? Do I believe that we're going to stay together until death do us part?"
"Yes, that basically what I'm asking." Oddly enough his voice sounded much calmer now, but she knew him too well to be fooled into believing that upon uttering those words he truly was that calm. He had been a spy for years, a double agent as a matter of fact, if he wasn't able to mask his true emotions then who could? His controlled tone was just too carefully studied to be anything but a façade.
"I can tell you that I love you and that I want to believe we will last that long, but I can't tell you what lies ahead. Can you?"
"No," he said quietly. Some of his anger seemed to have faded upon her reply. She couldn't help but feel a bit relieved. Maybe it was the fact that she once again managed to think clearly, but suddenly another suspicion dawned on her.
She almost felt embarrassed asking, but now she had to or the thought would torment her for days or possibly weeks. "You were going to…," she cleared her throat nervously, "you weren't considering, well…," the words died in her throat. Her mouth went dry and she suddenly felt parched. Her heart was hammering away inside her chest as if it was about to explode and she felt lightheaded.
"What?" he shot her a bewildered look, doubtlessly noticing her agitation.
"Oh, forget I ever said anything," she made a dismissive gesture with her hand, while she could feel the blood rushing to her face.
"Well, then it would have been better you hadn't started with it in the first place. Now out with it!" he commanded.
Abigail took a deep breath preparing herself as well as possible to making a fool out of herself in front of him. "You were not going to ask me whether I wanted to marry you, were you?" she rushed out quickly.
He looked at her unblinkingly for a couple of seconds. Then looked away, suddenly keenly interested in the way that owl over there in the corner was cleaning its feathers.
"Severus?" she asked doubtfully. When he didn't answer her voice rose a pitch as she repeated his name a bit louder. "Severus?"
"This is not how I imagined things to go…Not at all…A complete catastrophe, that's what this it…Mrs. Abbot that blasted old hag. Ruined everything with her stupid questions," he muttered more to himself than to her.
Abigail was trying hard to keep the mild cardiac event at bay she would doubtlessly experience in a couple of seconds. She took a couple of calming breath as she tried to come to terms with the fact that person across from her she thought to be too cynical to believe in marriage had just turned out to be a secret romantic who had been considering proposing marriage to her.
"Well, it's best we both forget this topic was ever mentioned," he said, finally looking at her again.
Her eyes widened comically at his words. "What? Are you completely bonkers?" A couple of things occurred to her simultaneously in that precise moment. One of those things was that she actually wanted to be proposed to by him. Another was that what she had said before at the party had been complete and utter rubbish.
"I'm afraid I don't understand what you are aiming at…."
"What I'm trying to say is that…," she took a deep breath, "is that…erm…I wouldn't mind actually…that is…"
"Would you kindly refrain from stuttering and form a coherent sentence, woman? It would make conversation with you so much easier."
"Yes, well, quite right too," Abigail licked her lips nervously. "I wouldn't mind if you proposed to me."
"So you can say no?" he asked humourlessly.
"No, so I can say yes."
He stared at her for a couple of seconds unblinkingly, then attempt to say something, but only ended up opening and closing his mouth a couple of times without any words coming out.
"So does that mean we're engaged now?" she tried to lighten the mood with a joke.
He finally found his voice again. "No, because I would actually have to propose to you for us to be engaged," he corrected her matter-of-factly
"Well, get on with it then," she smiled at him. He smiled one of his rare smiles back at her. She took a step closer to him. He did the same and took her hands in his. For awhile they just stood there and said nothing. They just looked at each other. The only noise was the soft rustle of feathers and the intermittent squawking of the owls.
"Do you want to marry me, Abigail?" he finally said.
"Yes," she answered simply. For despite of all the words that had been said before the answer had always been quite simple and could be given unwaveringly.
They kissed as clumsily and excitedly as teenagers. She smiled against his mouth. He drew her closer to him in a fierce hug that almost lifted her off her feet.