Chapter 2 The Invitation
Severus Snape closed his office door and sat down at his dark, imposing desk with a frustrated sigh. It had been another difficult day with his Potions students. The large fire beside him sent out a flickering light, which glinted off the shiny blackness of his hair as it fell into his face. The students today! Laziness and disrespect for authority abounded. They needed a firm hand to reach their potential and he prided himself on providing that. He looked at the pile of exams that were waiting to be graded. On top of the pile was a black miniature cauldron paperweight. His friend Catherine Lawson had given it to him, as a thank you gift for the time he had spent teaching her healing potions. His frown softened. Thinking of her had that effect on him.
He'd known her for so long - since they were both babies, really. Their parents had met through business, Mr. Snape being one of the main suppliers for the apothecary, and the families had visited each other a couple of times a year all through their childhood. The two children had quickly become friends and would think of wonderfully creative ways to pass the time while their parents sat and ate, drank and talked late into the evening. He'd always felt comfortable with Catherine. He couldn't explain it but she brought out something in him he tried hard never to show others, or maybe was simply afraid to show others. She knew the troubles he'd had as a child. He'd told her how difficult it was with his father. She'd seen glimpses of it herself; the fits of temper, his father's impatience with him, especially after an evening of drink, even the occasional bruises he'd tried to hide. She understood. And their antics together had been an escape. As children, he could recall several times when they had found themselves clutching their stomachs in fits of laughter, trying to catch their breath. It was a glorious feeling that had happened so rarely in his life. Catherine was always telling him he should smile more and laugh often. She said it changed him. She'd actually placed a charm on his paperweight that made it bubble green smoke whenever he laughed, hoping it would remind him of how important laughter should be in his life. He realized it hadn't bubbled in quite some time.
He dipped his quill into the well of red ink and began grading. Suddenly he stopped, as if an idea had just sprung into his mind. He shook his head and resumed grading. But the idea kept nagging at him. Finally he set his red ink and students' papers aside, and with a sigh of surrender, reached for a piece of blank parchment and his black inkwell. He started to write:
I hope this letter finds you well and your father improving. I'll have some time after exams are completed this week. I was hoping you might be able to visit. I have a rather large order of potions from Myron Skulgrove at St. Mungo's and thought you'd be interested in assisting me in their preparation. Some of them are quite interesting and would be helpful for you to learn. Let me know if I may expect you.
As he folded the letter and prepared his owl for delivery, he was a little disquieted at the level of anticipation he felt at their possible weekend together. It had been some time since he'd last seen her, and, as much as he didn't want to admit it, he really had missed her company. He was always busy at the school and he knew Catherine was having a difficult time keeping up with the demands of the shop and her father's illness. Still, they should try to make their visits more frequent. He'd been a professor at Hogwarts for a few years now, and though he had a professional respect for some colleagues, he still had not made any true friends. Lord knows there were few he even wished to keep company with. He sent the owl on its way, with a gesture, and it flew, zigzagging around the hallways and out of the dungeons. If he could have looked outside, he could have seen it fly out the door and soar. He could have watched it become smaller and smaller as it headed towards a beautiful horizon which was just beginning to fade into black from the deep pinks and purples of the sunset. But Snape wasn't really one to notice these types of things anyway. He turned towards his desk and sat down to resume his grading.
. . . .
Catherine and Remus, meanwhile, were just beginning their conversation in the apothecary. As do most initial conversations between strangers, theirs began with a bit of small talk, light and nothing too personal. But after the weather, and a few comments about the shop, the conversation began to flow.
"So, what do you think of our village?" Catherine asked.
Lupin thought for a minute, still quite reserved. "Well - it's pleasant, quiet. The streets are neat and the people friendly. I rather like the feel of it."
"It is pretty, but it can close in on you sometimes," Catherine replied with a laugh. "Believe me - I've been here long enough to know."
"How long?" he asked.
"My whole life, really. I grew up here - literally - here in this shop. Except for my time at Beauxbatons. And you? Did you just recently move here?"
He was a teacher. Unfortunately, due to circumstances upon which he did not elaborate, he had left his teaching position. He had just moved to town three weeks ago and was working for a wizard periodical called "Current Issues in Magic". Of course to Muggles, it seemed a magazine expressly for magicians. This was a good cover in their village, with the occasional Muggle wandering about, and decoy copies with the latest techniques on pulling rabbits out of hats or some other ridiculous trick were always available if needed. He worked in the research section. But he seemed hesitant to talk about himself and rather quickly changed the subject back to her.
"Why Beauxbatons? You're English, aren't you?"
"It was my mother's idea. She insisted. She has an adventurous streak. My aunt is a professor there and my mother thought it important for me to experience another culture. Plus, she knew my aunt would keep an eye on me."
"Did your aunt need to?" His blue eyes held hers, and Catherine lost her train of thought for a moment.
"Need to what?" Catherine asked, feeling a blush rise on her cheeks. She was glad the light in the shop had dimmed, hopefully concealing the redness.
"Keep an eye on you." His grin held a trace of mischief. Catherine noticed he seemed to be relaxing, his smile coming easier and easier.
"Occasionally, yes, I'm sorry to admit," Catherine said somewhat ruefully. And she described the time she and a few friends had climbed the bell tower and placed a charm on the school clock so that it ran faster and all classes were cut short - letting them all out early for the day.
He laughed. "That reminds me of the time my friends Sirius and James slipped Hasty Tonic into Professor Tome's morning tea. His History Of Magic lectures usually lasted two hours, and that day we were out after barely fifteen minutes. We spent the rest of the morning sitting by the lake talking and skipping rocks." He spoke more softly then, his voice becoming wistful. "It was a glorious spring day…the kind that gets you itching for summer holidays." He suddenly became quiet after speaking of his friends there, looking off for a moment as if lost in the memories. After that he'd seemed a bit more distant and abruptly stood up, apologizing for keeping Catherine so late. She realized with disappointment that their conversation was finished for now.
"I'll just close up quickly and we can leave together if you don't mind," Catherine told him. He nodded but didn't say anything.
They walked out into the night, and with the dark skies, howling wind and the nearby forest, she was glad for his company, if only for part of the walk home. He remained quiet as they walked. They parted ways - much to soon, in Catherine's opinion - when they reached the street where Catherine's parents lived. It was a simple goodbye. He was charmingly awkward.
"Thank you again for the chocolate, and for…" he pointed to the cut above his eye - looking embarrassed - with a shrug of his shoulders.
She smiled at him and said, "I hope you come by the shop again. I so enjoyed our conversation tonight." The wind was blowing harder now and she drew her coat closer around her.
He seemed unsure of what to say. He gave a half smile, and then just looked at her, almost as if he had a question. He saw the wind blowing her hair about her face. If Catherine could have read his mind at that moment, she would have known he had a sudden impulse to reach out and brush her hair away from her eyes. Instead, she saw him place his hands in his pockets and take a step back. He nodded his head, and then turned to walk to his room in the boarding house, Maximus following and nipping at his heels.
Catherine had seen something change in his eyes just then, as he had looked at her. A sadness had come over them. She stood there watching him walk. She could see his limp in the moonlight.
What in his life had done this to him? she wondered to herself. She sighed and called for Maximus. When she reached home, her mother greeted her at the door, informing her that supper was waiting on the table, but then apologized for having to go upstairs and help her father. Catherine ate alone. It was something she was getting used to, although her parents tried to eat with her when they could. She was cleaning up the supper dishes in the kitchen when the owl arrived. For a moment she had this irrational thought that it could be from Lupin, then laughed at how silly she was acting. Get a hold of yourself, Catherine! She was like a schoolgirl with a crush. She opened the letter.
"Oh - Severus!" Catherine said with a smile as she began to read. It had been a while since they'd last seen each other and she hoped her parents could manage without her for the weekend, as she felt long overdue for a bit of a break. Snape had always been concerned about her medical training, and had tried to dissuade her from quitting St. Mungo's, warning her how it was likely she'd never return. She bit her lip. How right he'd been. But in the time since, he'd periodically invited her for these impromptu "teaching sessions", convincing her that she had to keep her feet wet or she'd soon be too far behind to ever catch up. He was right, there. There was new information coming in all the time. And the hands-on practice was another thing entirely. Luckily she'd been able to assist Madam Pomfrey occasionally in the hospital wing, again arranged by Snape. She smiled. He was a good friend. And grumpy or sullen though he often was upon their initial meeting, he didn't usually stay that way for long. Although recently she'd noticed it took more and more effort on her part to draw him out of it. Catherine yawned. It was getting late. She'd ask her parents in the morning.
She climbed the stairs to her room, changed into her nightgown, and lay down in her bed, her thoughts again returning to the intriguing stranger with whom she'd now begun a tentative friendship. She replayed their conversation over in her head, trying to extract all the information about him that she could. Finally, she could fight sleep no longer after her long and eventful day, and she closed her eyes.
When she awoke, she could hear her parents' voices down at breakfast. That was a good sign. It meant her father felt well enough to go downstairs to eat. She hurriedly dressed and walked into the kitchen, giving both of her parents a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Mum, Dad - I've received an invitation from Severus to assist him this weekend in preparing some supplies for St. Mungo's. Would it be all right if I go?"
Her parents looked at each other, communicating as they often did with a glance or an expression. Her father nodded.
Her mother began, "We know how hard you've been working lately. I can handle the shop this weekend."
Then her father, "There is one thing Catherine…" He hesitated.
"What is it Dad?" Catherine responded. She looked at him - thin, gray hair, pale skin -and suddenly became worried.
"Well - does Severus - you know - have…feelings for you?" He looked concerned. Her parents had commented on none too few occasions how dark and serious Snape always seemed. They could not see their daughter, joyful Catherine, with someone like that.
"Oh Dad! Mum! Of course not!" Catherine laughed. She and Severus had been friends for so long - she'd never thought of him that way. She cared for him immensely, but he was like a brother to her, no more. She went upstairs and wrote a letter to him accepting his invitation, and then sent the owl on its way.
But later in the week, while on the Hogwarts Express, her father's question ran again in her mind. She stared out the window, watching the beautiful countryside rush by. Did Severus have feelings for her? He had certainly never told her so. He didn't even act like it around her, at least not obviously. But people had told her how he changed around her, how his mood usually lightened. And she could remember times when his glances at her lingered a moment too long. Or of feeling him looking at her while she worked with him, only to see him turn away suddenly the moment she looked up. And he had always been critical of men she'd gone out with. She remembered that now. But of course, she had complained about boyfriends to him at times, and he was only doing what friends do in those types of situations, wasn't he? In the end she comforted herself in the knowledge that theirs was a strong and special friendship, and had been for too long to be ruined by something like this.
Her thoughts turned back to Lupin. She wondered if he was thinking of her. She really had no idea if he even wanted to see her again. She sighed. It was his turn now. She would just have to wait for him to come to her. She was shocked at how forward she'd been already. She rested her head against the seat, trying to clear her thoughts and allow a nap before arrival at Hogwarts.
Lupin, meanwhile, was eating breakfast in his room. He could not get Catherine out of his head. He was angry with himself, for he knew better than to get involved with her, or with anyone for that matter. Yet he kept remembering their conversation the other night and how wonderful it felt to talk and laugh with someone the way they had. You've got to stop this foolishness, he told himself. He knew it would be better never to see her again. But then why was he, at that very moment, looking around his room, trying to figure out if he needed something, trying to find an excuse to enter her shop again…?