Chapter Two: On the Subject of Friendship
She thought she might like a garden out there one day, one day when she figured out what sort a place "There" was--and if she could find it. For now, her fruit grew on bushes, on trees, and, for one happy and bizarre moment, in the air--she was so surprised to find silver apples appearing before her as she hummed that she could not make them anymore, but she had red ones aplenty.
Water trickled through her orchard in a slim creek that playfully snaked through the trees. She had been following its progress, wondering to where it flowed. She was not tired, hungry, or scared, but she was beginning to feel lonely.
"I wish someone would come talk to me," she said, settling under a particularly magnificent arboreal specimen to enjoy the gurgling of the water.
"About what?" asked a friendly, masculine voice from the branches above her head.
She glanced up, not startled, but curious. "Hello. Do you live here, as well?"
"Right, I fancy living in a tree."
There was a rustle of leaves as the young man climbed down to join her. She noted that he was tall, red-haired, and wore a good-natured, open expression on his freckled face.
"I'm Waiting," he said, offering her his hand.
She took it. "Pleased to meet you, Waiting. . . . Not to be rude, but isn't 'Waiting' an awfully strange name for a boy?"
The boy grimaced. "It's not my proper name, I expect, but it's better than not having one. What's yours, then?"
"I don't know."
"Well, there you are," said the boy, as if this explained everything.
"I suppose I must have one."
"You might have one, at that. Have you tried to find it?"
The girl looked embarrassed. "I did, but I must not have tried the right way."
The boy sat down with intriguing grace for one so gangly. "How do you mean?"
"Well, I keep finding boys' names."
"Yeah, you're definitely doing it wrong."
The girl sat down, not sad exactly, but feeling foolish.
"Don't worry about it. I'll bet you just need to practice. . . . Say, do you mind if I stay here awhile? I just found out that I could leave . . . Where, and I'm not in a hurry to get back to it."
"I don't mind. Is Where full of people?"
"Nope, just me. It's a bit boring, really. I'd much rather talk to you for awhile, and look at these things," he said, waving his hand in a general way to indicate the girl's garden.
"You're welcome to stay as long as you like, Waiting."
"Oh, I like that--I do that all the time."
"So, I've been meaning to ask--is the pirate look a keeper, or just a phase?" Sirius asked Severus, as he finished off the last of his Scotch.
Snape pursed his lips.
"I do not look like a pirate."
"It's the beard," said Remus, "and you've not cut that hair in awhile."
"I fail to see why my personal grooming should be any concern of yours."
"I expect it's to do with not wanting my goddaughter to wake up and fail to recognize you."
"What Sirius means is that we've been concerned," Remus clarified.
"Concerned. Lupin, until only hours ago, you wanted to kill . . . ."
As Snape's voice trailed off, Remus and Sirius shared a resigned look.
Sirius spoke first. "I do apologize for my stupidity, Sev--erus--I shouldn't have--I'm sorry about the . . . prank. It was only meant as a prank."
The Potions master looked at Black. His face want blank, but his eyes glittered with some indecipherable emotion.
"Be that as it may, Lupin did want me dead for my entirely imagined behavior toward Harry."
"'Entirely imagined', Severus? I don't think so--no, wait," he said, holding up a hand. "I don't really believe that you behaved inappropriately. I was just struck by the force of her emotion in her letter, and when I thought of your . . . overall relationship with Ree, I was worried. And not just for her."
"Again you would have me believe that you feel concern for me?"
"Yes, I would. You're part of our little family whether you like it or not. Ree brought you into it, and you're stuck with us, so yes, I do worry about you. Sirius worries about you, as well."
"We are, after all, friends," Sirius said. "Minerva said so."
When Severus had been in school with the two men now sitting in his parlor, he had envied them their easy friendship with James Potter and Peter Pettigrew, which had been born of mutual interests and concern for each other. His own "friendship" between Lucius Malfoy and himself had been arranged by his father; the Snape and Malfoy families were of the same sort, and it was only natural that their sons should associate.
As boys, Severus and Lucius had tolerated each other, but when they had grown older, the silver-haired boy had introduced the brooding Severus to other ways of using their . . . connection, ways of which their fathers would not have approved. Being in Malfoy's company had always been thrilling, but never comforting. Sitting companionably and drinking with Sirius and Remus just because he wanted to, without worrying about any hidden agenda on their parts, was something of an enjoyable relief.
Though I would never admit feeling such a thing.
Remus cleared his throat.
"I understand your not trusting us, but we are sorry. And I think Ree would appreciate it if we looked out for each other, don't you?"
This offer was almost too much for the man to accept.
Since feeling the Dark Mark leave him and watching Voldemort die--watching Harry suffer and almost die as she killed the fiend and his followers--Severus had been surviving by not thinking about anything. He woke up. He taught his lessons. He brewed potions for Harry. He sat with Harry. He allowed himself to reread her letter--once only in the day. He never ate in the hall anymore, but had to subsist on the food Dobby left for him--if he did not eat it, the house elf would leave it to molder in his chambers. From all his not-thinking, he had come to accept that he cared for Harry deeply; he could think of her as a friend, but past that he would not permit himself to contemplate. And it was exhausting, he had found, this desire not to think along certain lines.
He felt frozen, unable to continue until he spoke to the girl--the woman. For the first time in years, if he so desired, he could be free of all obligations to anyone other than himself by writing one brief letter of resignation, yet he felt more trapped than being hunted by Voldemort had ever caused him to be. While his . . . friend, his first true friend, lay comatose and beyond his reach, there was no center, no purpose, no definition to his life. He needed her to help him find it, and was almost too drunk now to feel the shame and hopelessness that this realization caused him.
Sirius' voice jarred him out of his reverie. "Severus?"
Without meaning to say it, but knowing it was true the moment the words left his lips, Snape said, "Yes, I forgive you."
His guests glanced at each other with expressions that he could not read.
Perhaps if you wiped the tears from your eyes you would be able to, you ridiculous git, Severus thought, but he made no move to do so. Friendship. Friends. Friend. Friend who sacrificed herself for me. Why? What made me worthy of the sacrifice?
A sudden surge of self-loathing and confusion and fear made it impossible to focus.
"Well," said Remus, "I'm glad that you do--and thank you for the drinks. Next time, we'll bring the bottle, but I think we've trespassed on your hospitality long enough."
"Goodnight, Sev," Sirius said.
"What? Oh, yes--goodnight."
Remus closed the door to Snape's suite just as the sobs broke from within the room. He pulled Sirius into a fierce hug.
"Should we go back in there, you think?"
"No, Sirius. I don't think Severus would thank us for it."
"I hate myself, you know."
"Try not to, love."
"Remus?" Sirius asked, pulling away from his partner to put a silencing spell on Severus' room.
"Does it concern you at all that now I'm more worried about Ree breaking his heart than the other way 'round?"
Remus considered his lover's question carefully before responding. "I think that you and I had better promise each other now that we won't become involved in their . . . relationship, not for any reason."
"Agreed," Sirius replied, though without really thinking about it.
"I can do it, myself, Albus," Minerva said testily as she rose from her bed. "I have examinations to plan. I cannot simply allow Sirius to do everything."
Dumbledore sighed. "Minerva, you look pale. You have not yet recovered fully, and you aren't like to do so if you do not rest."
The tired witch turned sadly toward her beloved meddler and smiled thinly. "Albus, you know that I'm not--"
"No!" he said, holding up his hand. "Don't say it."
He crossed the distance between them and held her close to himself.
"Oh, Albus. You have to accept this. You cannot save us all."
Tears threatened the cheeks of both lovers, but did not dare fall. They stood entwined for long minutes until Albus felt Minerva weakening. He swept her up and carried her back to the bed, tucking her in before she could complain.
Resigned, Minerva said, "You are a manipulative ba--"
Albus drew up a chair.
"Frog balls," he said with an attempt at cheerfulness. "I merely thought that you would prefer to be comfortable as I told you the story of how Grashthaten the Grievous became most aggrieved to lose a certain amulet of power to a much younger me."
"Oh, go on, man! Grashthaten was dead three hundred years before you were born."
"I'm hurt that you would doubt me, my love."
"Doubt you? I wonder at your sanity, sometimes, Albus."
As do I, my dear. As do I.
While only exaggerating his deeds a little as he related his tale, Dumbledore began to plan for his future. Accept her death he might have to do, but lose Minerva, no, that was not something he thought he could face.
After all these years, I have found someone with whom I cannot be without, he thought, watching the lines fade from around her eyes as sleep smoothed them closed. "I do love you, my girl--more than life."
Dobby had not carried all of the letters Ree Potter had written before fighting what she believed would be the last battle of her life; one letter and a book had been given to Blaise Zabini to deliver. This he did as the snakes were stealing Snape's blood, and Ree and Neville were preparing themselves at Godric's Hollow to face their mutual destiny. Draco . . . well, for what Draco had been preparing, Blaise had not been allowed to know, and all the young Auror knew lately was the bitter taste of blighted affection and the odd freedom that comes from being ostracized by those who once . . . cared for him. Ordering another drink, Blaise permitted himself the opportunity to reflect on how his life had changed.
The last time he had spoken to Draco was six months previously, on the night they had spent with Ree. Blaise knew that his lover was making dark plans that would most likely lead to yet more pain, destruction, and death, and it hurt him that Draco did not trust him enough to make him a part of those plans.
He was carrying the grimoire that Ree had left to him, which he recognized as having come from his family's library, to "safety" only because he knew Draco would not accept anything from him. That, and he decided that his mother no longer required it, or she would never have parted with it.
I could have procured it for her, but she didn't trust me to do it, he thought bitterly. What did I do to deserve that lack of trust? Just what you asked me to do.
Critical self-examination was not something which Blaise practiced.
It galled him that Ree had never loved him, that Draco had loved Ree.
His thoughts continued to run in much the same vein as he entered the Three Broomsticks later that night. Rosmerta favored him with a thorough look before gesturing him to follow her and walking toward the rear of the establishment. She held open the private door for him, and bade him to sit by her fire. The consideration warmed Blaise far more than the steaming tankard of the foaming, sweet-smelling drink that appeared next to him on the side-table.
Rosmerta smiled. "Something bracing. You look as though you need encouragement."
He murmured his thanks into the foam.
"You are carrying something to me, I believe?"
The publican accepted the heavy, paper-wrapped package with no difficulty, holding it balanced on the flat of her palm and pulling the leather covering from it quickly.
"Ah, the Grimoire Nigromantia. Excellent. I believe that leaves one last copy in the world waiting for me to collect it."
"Ree also wanted you to have this," Blaise said, handing the woman a letter.
After briefly scanning the epistle, Rosmerta said, "I believe that I shall read this aloud, Mr. Zabini."
"As you wish."
"Dear Madame Rosmerta,
"Professor Snape mentioned in passing once that you were an avid collector of ancient texts of prohibited magic, and that your care of these books was beyond reproach. Because of this, please find the Grimoire Nigromantia with this letter. If it amuses you to add it to your library, excellent. If not, please do me the favor of destroying it.
"I think you can guess by the subject matter of my gift to you that soon I, Neville, and Draco will be dead, which will leave Blaise quite alone, as he and Ron only tolerate each other. No one should have to lose his closest friends and deal with the recriminations of those who survive without someone to support him. For this reason, I would ask that you look out for Blaise. He's very like the professor in his sulks and sudden turns of mood, though he hides them almost as well, and I know how very much Severus has always relied upon you.
"On that score, I suppose I should apologize for what my behavior has been toward you in my more jealous moments. Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to lie. I'm not sorry. I hate that he loves you and not me.
"Despite these feelings, I would like to thank you for your many kindnesses to me, even though I didn't deserve half of them. For the ones that I did deserve, and for the book now in your possession (a book for which armies have vied, or so I have been told), I hope that you will take care of the men I love.
Blaise was stunned. She remembered me.
"Of course she did. She loves you."
"Not enough," the wizard said, not evincing any surprise that the publican could read his thoughts.
He had long suspected that there was more to the lady than met the eye, and his had seen much that was strange in his own home.
"Not in the way you would wish. Still, her regard is worth having, and you do have it," Rosmerta said, reaching across the grimoire to touch the young man's cheek.
Blaise turned his face into the palm of her hand and sighed.
He was glad that he had left the glitzy Muggle bar where he had felt miserably out of place--where he had gone looking for memories of himself and Draco, made when the young men dancing on the floor and edging closer to him at the tap were familiar. Everything had seemed strange there, and everyone, a stranger.
I don't belong there anymore, Blaise thought.
"No, you don't," Rosmerta said. "You belong here, with me."
"Yes," he agreed, thinking, At least here I feel as if I am somewhat closer to home.
It had taken her hours to finally feel comfortable enough to sleep, and she had found the perfect position in which to do it: lying against and between and on top of a mountain range of pillows.
This is heavenly, thought Hermione as she allowed her aching spine to relax into a sea of cotton.
And then the kicking began.
"No, Percy. Mommy wants to sleep!" the young medi-witch yelled in frustration, throwing her head back and wondering if there was some fetal-calming potion she could brew to prevent the gymnastics her unborn son was performing.
A knock at her door interrupted her attempts to visualize that thought.
"Hermione, are you vell?"
Oh, by all the gods. Viktor.
She liked Viktor. They were friends. But despite the fact that she was newly "widowed" and heavily pregnant, her training partner exhibited attentions toward her that Hermione found over-warm.
"Hermione?" Viktor called again, sounding worried.
"I'm fine. I just can't get to sleep. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
"May I come in?"
Hermione sighed. He's not going to go away. Ron was right. I wrote you too many letters!
"Oh, all right."
The door opened immediately, and Viktor's beaming face greeted the prone witch.
"Is mother grumpy? That is unfortunate because I know of a vay to help her rest happily throughout the night, but if she is mean to me--"
"Oh, what is it?"
"I must touch your feet," Viktor said with a wolfish grin.
"Yes, to your feet I must apply this salve, and then you and Baby shall sleep vell," the man said, flipping up the covers off of the feet in question.
"Viktor Krum, do you mean to tell me you've had this--"
Hermione stopped speaking as the medi-wizard's hands on her surprised her. She suddenly felt wonderful.
"It should feel varm, yes?" he asked, efficiently rubbing the salve into the woman's left heel.
"Oh, yes, yes it does. . . . Wait a moment, just how long have you had this salve?"
"For a long time. It is a recipe used by all female Krums, you know."
"No, I didn't know! Why are you just now telling me? Why haven't you--oh, why aren't you selling it? You could make a fortune!"
Viktor chuckled. "I am a Krum, Hermione."
"What has that got to do with anything?" she asked, her attempts at anger failing utterly.
"I already have a fortune. In fact, I have almost everything for vhich I could vish."
How do I let myself get into these messes?
It was only the potency of the salve affecting her nerves that prevented Hermione from responding appropriately to Viktor's comment. She would think of a way to put him off as soon as she prized the recipe for his magical salve from him.
Baby Percy, having ended his performance, seemed to agree.
Rosmerta never enjoyed being the center of attention, but she liked people. She lived for a good chat over a pint. Gossip had a way of becoming useful when you least expected it, and so running a pub gave her exactly what she needed: it allowed her to be in the thick of things, to know what was happening in her town, to be able to speak to a wide assortment of people without skulking about, and to have the free time to pursue other interests without scrutiny--for one did not need to be present in the taproom every waking moment. Rosmerta found that she was in her back rooms "brewing up a new batch" of something or other quite frequently. And as her establishment closed at the stroke of midnight and she was not a being who required a great deal of sleep, well, slipping out unnoticed when the need arose was a simple enough matter.
What she could not tolerate, however, was rudeness. She ran a friendly house, and she expected her patrons to behave themselves. When one of them did not, and gentle persuasion could not bring the person in question to his or her--or its, as the case sometimes was--senses, the lady had more forceful means of bringing individuals to heel.
Years ago now, when young Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Zabini, Parkinson, and Snape had been gadding about after curfew, Rosmerta had surprised the group as they were worrying an older witch on her way home from a neighbor's. The boys had been thoroughly inebriated, but that they would tease anyone cruelly did not sit well with the publican; no one harmed a member of her village.
"Pick up those packages for Widow Blake this instant!" Rosmerta had ordered the Hogwarts' students.
Malfoy had laughed. "Here's more interesting game, Severus!"
The dark-haired boy, who had been hanging a little ways back from the group, stepped forward to help the old witch to the jeers of his friends.
Rosmerta had pulled her wand.
"Just what do you think you can do with that?" Parkinson had asked dismissively. "There are six of us."
"Expelliarmus!" called the widow, and Goyle, Crabbe, and Malfoy lost their wands.
Parkinson promptly vomited. Snape had attempted to help the boy, but he had been shoved off.
"Accio wand!" Rosmerta had cast, collecting the ill boy's wand, and also Zabini's.
She had then urged the elderly witch to get home, assuring her that she would "have a talk" with the headmaster.
"Return to the school, gentleman. I'll see you tomorrow, I have no doubt."
"I'll not take orders from a bar maid," Malfoy had said in a cold voice.
Rosmerta's laugh had been rich and warm and suffocating. It surrounded the boys and squeezed.
"Stay then, stay and die."
The other boys had staggered off when the publican's laughter had stopped, but Snape had remained.
He was fascinated by the woman.
"Can you breathe again?"
"Would you care for a drink?"
"You're called Severus, aren't you?"
"They'll come back. They'll hurt you!"
"Severus, do I seem to be someone easily harmed?" Rosmerta had asked, favoring the young man with a hungry look.
He had blushed.
She had smiled.
"You've a great deal going on behind those eyes of yours. Come, tell me everything."
"Um, okay--I mean, yes, Ma'am," Severus had responded nervously.
"Never refer to me as 'ma'am' again."
"As you wish, Ma'--I mean, that is--"
"You may call me Rosmerta, Severus. . . . You'll feel more comfortable about it in the morning."
She had never forgotten his blush. It was one of the last times she had seen him so prettily stained by innocence.
As much as Rosmerta enjoyed young men who were relatively free of guile, she did not require it in those on whom she deigned to bestow her companionship. Blowing out every candle save one in the taproom, she found herself wondering what manner of lad Blaise would prove to be.
Not too respectful, I hope, she thought, as she moved to stand before the wizard, who had just finished his drink. "What else may I offer you?"
Abruptly, Blaise stood, and, without breaking eye contact, lifted the lady off of her feet and carried her to her private rooms.
The element of surprise, thought Rosmerta, smooths over so many of life's otherwise awkward moments.
But even though she appreciated the young man's effort, she was a bit wistful for the time when such a masculine gesture would have caused her genuine bewilderment. For the witch was familiar with the seduction techniques of men, and had known in her time a man who could levitate the lovers' bed for hours.
To float in a sea of conjured flowers, caressed by fragrant petals and a pair of warm hands--such is now the stuff of fairytales.
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