The Sugar Quill
Author: Juliane (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Once More, With Feeling  Chapter: Chapter Two
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Chapter Two

Chapter Two

 

I saw her face, for the first time in a decade, and was struck incoherent. Her face. The lines at the corners of her eyes were a little deeper, her jawline a little softer, but otherwise the years had largely ignored her. It was her expression that confounded me; she had that indescribable look of someone who had experienced great love and great grief and an emotional life rich beyond my ken. For the first time since I had known her, she was beautiful.

 

Finally, I managed to take a step towards her, but my mind was so full I didn’t think I could speak. It was with great surprise, then, that I heard my voice. “You’ve been happy,” I accused her. “You loved him, loved him with your whole heart, you rotten bitch.” I stopped. Had I just said that? If I did, at least I knew I meant it.

 

I had. She threw the remainder of the bread down the quay, and the swans hurried off after it, making their barbarous noises. She faced me, not furious, as I had expected, but closed off to me in a way I had never known from her.

 

“Yes Severus, you fool, of course I loved him.”

 

Her eyes, which were indeed rendered brilliant by the combination of autumn light and green jumper held mine, although I was very conscious of the curve of her breasts made visible by her scooped neckline.

 

“Excuse the mistake, Viviane, but I never thought you were capable of acquiring such a taste for boredom-“

 

She began to walk away. I stood for a moment, marveling at her self control, but then it seemed wrong for her and I hastened to catch up. Besides, if anyone was going to do the walking away after all the trouble I’d taken to find her, it was going to be me.

 

“Viviane, please wait-“ It was very odd, speaking her name aloud.

 

She turned on me. “I’ve waited ten years for you to grow up and realize just what was going on during those last months at Hogwarts. In vain, it appears. Go home, and tell Remus I’m just fine and I didn’t feel like writing to him, that’s all.”

 

At that, I wanted to walk away, and nearly did. Seeing her though, and seeing the changes in her, made me too curious to leave. No tantrum, no reckless response to my taunts, no lashing out with the emotional ammunition we both knew she possessed to use on me. Her newfound reticence was interesting. Where had she aquired it?  She had taken a few steps away when I reached out to detain her.

 

“Wait,” I muttered, “Wait – “

 

With an impatient sigh, she turned, and the absence of anything but weariness and sorrow on her face told me how shattered she had been, and was. Remembering with a rueful frown my words to Remus about sentimental reconciliations, I slid my arms around her, and whispered a brief apology into her ear. The hair above it was streaked with gray, and I held her closer, waiting for the inevitable tears.

 

Being Viviane, she shed none. Not that she couldn’t weep – she was capable of awesome floods of tears, especially if she lacked a handkerchief – but on any occasion where they might be appropriate…no.

 

She held herself aloof from me, refusing to give in to my embrace, and gods, it hurt. Our physical separation, which I had cursed through more long nights than I cared to remember, was nothing to this rejection of my hard-won apology.

 

But then she surprised me. She wriggled from my arms, glanced from me to the spires of the castle, and grinned. “I’ll meet you for dinner tonight at Metamorphis, in Mala Stupartska. Eight o’clock?”

 

I knew exactly what she was thinking. “It is not my ancestral home,” I snapped, and began to wonder if I could possibly survive this constant whiplash of emotion. But I agreed to dinner.

 

~*~*~

 

Lupin,

 

Prague is a most fascinating city, very dark and mysterious. You would fit right in.

 

Severus

 

P.S. I found her. There is no Malfoy nor torture implements, and she is busy feeding swans and suborning the ancient concierge of her hotel (a former convent, if you would believe it). She seems to have lost her touch, or at least her taste in men.

 

~*~*~

 

 I had chosen a hotel in the oldest part of the city and before starting my search for Viviane, spent many hours marveling at the dizzying combination of rococo and religious fervor in the architecture. Nothing quite prepared me for the restaurant she’d chosen, though; it was deep in the vaults of a building that had to be from around the same era as her convent. Candles picked out flecks of mica in the stone walls and arches, and gleamed off of white tablecloths and dark red chairs. I found her already seated at a corner table, a waiter just beginning to pour a glass of wine. I hesitated. How to greet her? A handshake? A kiss? A quick Cruciatus? I settled for sliding into the chair opposite, and indicating that I also wanted wine. That took care of the first few moments, but after he left we sat there, staring at each other across a small table in a 13th century dungeon, sipping surprisingly good Moravian wine and having not the least idea what to say. After a quick review of our quarter-century relationship thus far, I decided that expecting anything else would have been far too optimistic.

 

Viviane raised her glass as if for a toast, but her brows slanted towards her nose in the familiar, puzzled gesture that rendered me speechless with unmentionable memories (probably good, considering how my last not-speechless moment turned out). She ended by waving her glass at me and taking a gulp of the wine.

 

Then she set her glass down.

 

“So, where is it? The Talisman? Show me, because I know you have it on you.”

 

Stunning. How did she know I had it – or the remains of it – with me, and did she know that it was not exactly in the best of shape?

 

I picked up the menu and began to deliberately read each item. In my current state, I was capable of ordering something dreadfully Czech, and I don’t fancy intestine. As I read, I waited to have the menu snatched from my hands, or for Viviane’s eyes to peer over the top to insist that I produce the contraband. Nothing.

 

The waiter arrived, and I ordered something that was not intestine - salmon with champagne sauce, I think. I do know Viviane ordered the leg of boar - so typical - and at some point soon after prosciutto-wrapped melon and pate with cranberries and pear arrived. I reached for the melon, but my fingers were knocked away by a swipe of her hand.

 

“Talisman,” she said.

 

I was very hungry, so there was nothing to do but comply. I spread a napkin out on the table, reached into my pocket and pulled out the green velvet bag. Looking steadily at her and, to soothe my nerves, recalling every terrible thing she’d ever done, I upended the bag over the napkin, and the fragments of the Talisman spilled out in a small golden stream.

 

That worked. She turned pale and dropped the fork she’d picked up and been playing with.

 

“You tried to use it without my cooperation, you damned bloody fool,” she whispered, reaching out a finger to stir the golden anthill. “I thought I felt...I knew...you were up to no good, ten years ago.”

 

I poured us both more wine, and cut myself a slice of the pate. This was going to be a long story, and a longer night.

 

“That’s a fine accusation, coming from you, Mrs. Calloway. You left me with battles to fight and a shattered school to rebuild. How I went about it was my business.”

 

She sighed, and shook the golden dust off of her finger. “I’ve tried to explain to you, over the years, but from lack of reply, I assumed you never read my letters.” Reaching across the table, she took my hand, and I jumped at the contact. The collision between past, present, and memory was most disconcerting. “Severus, I had to leave. My obligation to the Order and to Dumbledore was over, and if I stayed, I would have been far too tempted to seize power on my own terms. I could have. I could have stayed, and made Hogwarts over into the version of Aquitaine that lives in my memory. I could have preserved my sword, accepted the power my father placed in me to exact obedience from the Dementors, and used them as my personal army against the Death Eaters - or anyone in my path.” She shuddered. “I still cannot forgive him for that.”

 

Sliding my hand from under hers, I nodded. “Clever of you, Viviane, to defend yourself with the one action of yours I supported. In that Ministry meeting, if Remus hadn’t blasted Diggory into the wall, I would have.” I took a piece of the melon and with an effort banished the memory of Viviane standing before an enraged Wizengamot, defying their order to use the Dementors against Ministry enemies, Diggory’s wand pointed at her throat. She had lifted her chin and, with a twist of her head, offered him her neck, just as she would to a lover. I had to blink several times to rid myself of the image. “Are you trying to convince me that your desertion of Hogwarts was an act of noble sacrifice instead of an opportunistic ploy in the form of Rufus Calloway?”

 

With my usual luck, the food arrived just at that moment, allowing her to consider her reply. She picked at her boar for some time before setting her fork down and pinning me to my chair with that look she could use just as neatly as she could her sword.

 

“I am not trying to convince you of anything. As a matter of fact, I am trying very hard not to reach across the table and strangle you. The day after Harry dispatched Voldemort, I was packing up to go when Rufus - when I - he - you remember the sequence of events, I am sure; a long memory is one of your talents.” She dug savagely into her meat, and ate a piece before continuing. “I was best gone, for the sake of Hogwarts, and for our sakes, as well. Do you really think you and I would have been able to resist using the Talisman, with the restraining hand of Albus gone, and nobody powerful enough to hold us back? We had been spiraling towards mutual destruction for years, Severus, and if one of us had not stepped away, we would have destroyed everything that the Order and Harry Potter fought for. Don’t you see that?”

 

Adding disingenuousness to my list of her new traits, I broke off a corner of the salmon and regarded it for a moment before making a show of eating, then picked up a spear of asparagus and nibbled it as I took apart her scenario. “You stepped back from our relationship months before you left, Viviane, barely vouchsafing me a kiss between battles. You needn’t have left to accomplish that; it was done. I could see that Calloway was infatuated with you, and wondered when he would offer you an escape, but I never thought you would be coward enough to take it. If you were best gone from Hogwarts, why were we still fighting for our very survival? Why did Minerva die fighting Death Eaters, if your work for the Order was done? As for the Talisman-“

 

How to explain? How to explain to this woman I now barely knew, the tangled mess that was myself, Sirius, James Potter, and his son? “Harry is only a child,” the other Professors all said those first years, “why be so harsh with him?” Does ingratitude, arrogance, contempt and lies count? I saved his life, I trained him at great cost to myself and others, and in the end, he used what I taught him and triumphed, and in it I felt his father’s triumph over me. I had thought to give the son one final lesson, one to show him that the wizarding world not only builds up its heros, it can discard them once they had done their job. I won’t go into details here, but -

 

“I did try an experiment, to see what magic was left within it. Not enough, alas to accomplish my goal, and it was destroyed in the effort. And while we are on the subject of power, you flatter yourself, Viviane. I doubt any attempt to turn Hogwarts into your own personal fiefdom would have survived my and Minerva’s objections. Remember, I know all too well your feelings towards Dementors, and that you never would have taken command of a Dementor army, no matter what it was you craved.” I turned my attention back to my salmon, watching her from underneath my eyelashes.

 

She slumped back in her chair, staring down into her lap. “I miss Minerva so much,” she whispered. “I often wonder if I could have done anything to save her.”

 

Some things hadn’t changed. She was still impossible to reason with.

 

“Perhaps you could have, had you been at Hogwarts when the remaining Death Eaters decided to start picking us off, one by one, as I noted earlier.”

 

A heap of money was tossed on top of the remains of the Talisman, and Viviane grasped the arms of her chair. Before she could stand, a waiter hastened over to pull it back, and she stood up, draining her glass of wine. She held it for a moment, her fingers tightening on the stem, but she set it back down on the table.

 

“You never played chess much, did you, Severus? Remus used to take me apart in game after game. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice a great deal to make sure the game does not end in stalemate - not only pawns and rooks, but in extreme situations, you may need to sacrifice your entire strategy in order to escape limbo. It took me far too long to understand that, and it looks as though you’ll never learn. I’m sorry to see it.”

 

With that, she stalked out.

 

It had not been a long night, after all.

 

~*~*~

 

Dear Lupin,

 

Gods, how have you put up with her all these years, or do you enjoy her newly found self-righteousness? She must have picked it up from you. Rufus may have been a few points north of an idiot, but at least he knew his limitations (except when it came to playing Quidditch with men half his age).

 

We had a dinner full of gentle bile and quiet vitriol; you would have enjoyed the restaurant, which had plenty of wild game on the menu. She stalked off after I pointed out some home truths, which is to be expected of her. So there it is. I have some weeks of leave yet, and although I have completed the job you requested, I’m going to stay here for a while. It is a fascinating city that I haven’t begun to explore.

 

I don’t expect to see her again, nor did she say anything about writing to you, but she’s alive.

 

Severus Snape

 

 

//
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