“Of course he will, he never misses a game,” Carine said, speaking quietly to avoid being overheard. “So it won’t be a waste of your time. You can gawk at him to your heart’s content.”
“I don’t gawk. Anyway, it’s your evil plot, not mine.” Arelia watched as she picked at her food. The other Slytherins didn’t try to hide their resentment of her invasion of their table. The girl she had sat next to in order to speak with Carine had moved down the table with an arrogant sniff. Arelia ignored them all.
“So will you come?” Carine asked again.
“If I’m going to watch a game, shouldn’t I do it with my own housemates?”
“They aren’t playing; if they were, it’d be different. Besides, you can’t cheer for Gryffindor – I’d have to disown you.” The ghost of the sly smile brightened her face.
“Fine, I’ll come. You’re sure Snape will be there?”
“He will, I promise you that.” She winked. “He asked me if you were coming.”
Carine sighed. “Give my genius some credit. Obviously, your calculated to impress outfit did its job.”
Arelia’s eyes glanced quickly at the head table and away again. Snape was paying more attention to her than to his breakfast. She hoped she wasn’t blushing. “So what do I wear to this silly display of hormonal angst on brooms?”
“Something sexy enough to get noticed but not too revealing – a man likes to unwrap his goodies himself, after all.” As she led the way out of the Great Hall, Carine told her exactly what to wear. “I’ll meet you in the courtyard in half an hour. Wear your make-up like I taught you, too.”
“I will – I don’t see the point of that war paint, but I will.”
They parted company in the entrance hall. Arelia dressed to Carine’s specs and then felt so self-conscious in the clothes, she was almost afraid to go and meet her.
The faded jeans were uncomfortably tight. She’d have marks on her skin for a week. The heavy cornflower blue sweater was cropped short and exposed her navel. Black boots with just a hint of heel, and the make-up, completed the look. She almost didn’t recognize herself in the mirror. Forbidden to wear a coat despite the early November chill, she left the tower with a knot coiling in her stomach.
Carine wore a black wool pipe skirt with a v-neck hunter green sweater. Her knee boots had four-inch heels.
“I hope you don’t break an ankle in those stilts,” Arelia said in greeting.
“I’ve had lots of practice. Come on, before all the good seats are gone.”
Carine led her out to the Quidditch field. When they went up the steps and entered the bleachers on the Slytherin side, she was surprised to discover that she wasn’t the only non-Slytherin there. There were a few Hufflepuffs, in spite of the fact that most of them were on Gryffindor’s side. The real shock was how many of her own house were there. Even Beldon, though he was careful to keep away from Hayden and his goons.
“Why didn’t you tell me they’d be over here?”
“Who? Your house? Of course they’re here. If Gryffindor wins, they have to play against them next. They seem to feel we’d be easier to beat, so they’re lending a cheer. Sweet of them, really.” Her voice dripped poisoned honey as she glared at several Ravenclaws.
She darted forward and Arelia hurried to follow. They stopped in front of a row of Slytherin fifth years, all of whom abruptly looked uncomfortable.
“Thanks for saving our seats.” Carine beamed her perfect smile at them.
“We can sit over there,” Arelia said, but to her surprise, the fifth years got up. They almost seemed afraid of the blonde. “Okay, you obviously know something about throwing your prefect weight around that I don’t. What’s the secret?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Why make them move? What’s so special about this spot?”
Arelia frowned. At first she thought Carine meant out over the field. Then the smirking blonde gestured over their heads with her thumb. Turning in her seat, she looked up. One of the box seat sections reserved for teachers and guests loomed over them. Startling when she saw Snape staring down at her, she faced the field again with heat rising in her cheeks.
“You know, I might have screwed up,” Carine said with a wicked grin. “We should have dressed you in something low cut. I bet the view is fantastic from up there.”
~ ~ ~
The game was a blur. Arelia was trying too hard to watch everything at once, just to avoid looking up.
“I didn’t know you were a fan,” a voice from her left said. She turned her head and saw her nameless Hufflepuff Quidditch Captain sitting down next to her. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Carine leaned forward and frowned around her to reply, “Yes, we mind. Girl talk.”
“Don’t be rude,” Arelia told her. “Go ahead.”
“So – you like the sport? I’ve never seen you come out to watch before.”
“I’m here under partial duress.”
“Oh. Do you understand the game? I mean, if you wanted to, and didn’t … I could explain.”
Arelia smiled at Carine’s exasperated sigh. “No, I understand the rules. Not the point – but the rules, yes.”
“The point is fun – competition, adrenaline – fighting for a goal. Hell, sometimes survival if you ignore a runaway Bludger. All the good gritty stuff you need to succeed in life.”
“Yes,” Carine retorted under her breath, “so the weeds don’t get the better of you in the garden back on the farm.”
Hoping he hadn’t heard her, Arelia smiled. “I get my adrenaline climbing.”
“Cliffs?” He looked pleasantly surprised.
“No, shelves – the restricted section in the library; they always put the best stuff way over my head.”
He laughed. “Most of that stuff is over my head. I’m hoping to get picked up by a national team. Playing professionally – that would be the best. Do you fly?”
“Yes, but I’m much happier Apparating. I can’t really get into brooms. They just remind me of chores back home. I’m from a Muggle family,” she added at his quizzical look.
“Yeah, I knew that. Just didn’t get the reference.”
Carine was looking up. “Arelia, come on!”
“It’s E.P. time, let’s move!” The blonde stood and tugged at her hand.
“I guess I’m going. It was nice talking with you.”
“I’ll be here. Or, I’ll see you in Potions.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” She allowed Carine to haul her away toward the stairs. “What’s the rush?”
They were halfway down when Carine stopped. “No, not down, go through there.”
“That’s not a passage. It’s a catwalk.”
Carine passed her and stepped through the opening into the dim space under the bleachers. “This is a favorite Slytherin hidey-hole,” she explained, her voice drifting away as she went further in. “Come on.”
“Are you going to tell me why we’re creeping around under the bleachers?” An abrupt and shocking stomping roar overhead shook the structure all around them, making her gasp.
“To show you this – just in case he asks you.” She ducked out of sight into a right turn.
“Show me what?”
Down a short sidetrack, she stopped. Carine stood in front of an alcove in the crisscrossing weave of wooden beams. Someone had put a couch in the cramped space.
“I hope that was conjured there.” Staring at the wide and likely soft brown crushed corduroy furniture, she added, “I don’t think Snape is the grope-under-the-bleachers type.”
“Yeah, well, I am.” Grinning, she went in and sat on the couch. “And don’t assume he’s a fastidious gent, either. Nice thing about this is, you can sneak out here anytime. If there isn’t a game on, it’s the safest nook in the world. When there is a game on, you can pretend the cheers are for your performance.”
“Naturally.” Arelia ventured in and sat. “So what now? Should we go back up and be scenery? He can’t see us down here.”
“Not if you’re going to start chatting up Farmer Hufflepuff again.”
“It was fun seeing you squirm. You don’t really think Snape is going to ask me out to a friendly under-bleacher date, do you? I was hoping for something a little more scenic – and considerably less course.”
“You never know. I just wanted you to know it was here.”
“Well I do prefer this to watching that silly game.” She turned to face her friend. “How about if we discuss this Decker Marcus problem?”
“I can’t talk about that.”
“Why not? Slytherin secrets hell, Carine, I’m worried about you!”
“I know. I’m sorry I scared you, but I got it sorted out now, okay?”
“You can’t tell me you suddenly like the pompous ass.”
“No, I don’t. It’s – complicated. And I’ve just gotten my good mood back, so let’s not drag all that up. Anyway, it’s not so bad.” She stood up. “We should get back. You can even talk to What’s-his-name if you want to.”
“I really should ask his name, I guess.”
“You should. You’ll need it for the Dear John letter you’ll be writing after you land Snape and give up on little boys.”
“I do admire your ability to stay on topic. You’re like a blonde pit bull – and points for Muggle Studies terminology inclusion.”
The second they got back into the bleachers, Marcus descended. “We need to talk, Lachlan.”
Carine seemed about to protest until they both saw Hayden coming, flanked by the brute squad. “I’ll talk to you,” she said, “if they stay here.”
“Carine, wait –”
“It’s okay. I’ll be back. Wait here for me?”
They were gone before Arelia could say anything. She started to follow, but Hayden stood in her way. “I bet I know a lot more hexes than you do. You might want to move.”
“It’s Slytherin business, Galen.”
A cold voice interrupted them. “Is there a problem here?”
“No, sir,” Hayden said, straightening.
“Good,” Snape replied. “Why don’t you go cheer on the team, then?”
“Yes, sir.” Cowed, they all trooped back to their seats.
“Miss Galen, if you have a moment, I would like to talk to you. Follow me, please.”
He went back down the stairs and she followed with her stomach knotting. When he stopped at the entrance to the catwalk, she froze on the steps above him. He noticed her glance and smiled.
“So she showed you the snake hole? Fear not – my intentions are far more banal.” When he moved on down to the ground and began walking away from the stairs, she hurried to catch up with him.
“I wanted to talk to you before, Professor, about Carine.”
Stopping on the lawn under the shadow of the stadium, he faced her. His arms, wrapped in cloak sleeves, crossed over his chest. “That is the matter I wanted to discuss with you. There is something you do not understand, and Miss Lachlan is not at liberty to enlighten you.”
“I understand just fine. Marcus seems to have those primitive troglodytes on thin leashes. Did you know they beat up my house’s Seeker because he was a former friend of hers?” Shocked at her tone, she tried to calm herself. “I’m worried about her, sir.”
“She isn’t involved with Marcus. She is in training to be a tutor, to help me with my classes. It is an unsanctioned post, however, and we keep it discrete. I hope I can trust you to do the same.”
“Tutor, sir? What does that have to do with Hayden’s terrorizing?”
“Nothing, probably. He’s not the brightest of my Slytherins, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. If their behavior distresses you, I will bring them to heel.”
“Yes,” she said, startled. “Thank you, sir. I wanted to ask you about it when you made that appointment to see me, but you didn’t give me much chance.”
He didn’t answer and she had no idea what else to say. From the field, another roar shook the air around them.
“I had a specific agenda in mind for that appointment,” he finally responded, “concerning your work in my class, but you could have brought it up after. Contrary to rumor, I am not an ogre. I will listen if you need to speak to me about something important. For now, we should return to the game.”
Relieved that he would stop Hayden and the others, she headed back up the stairs ahead of him.
“I probably shouldn’t comment, Miss Galen,” he said, “but I’ve noticed a change in you. I suspect my devious tutor is at the root of it, but I have to say it is an improvement.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, grateful he couldn’t see her face. Then she realized he was watching her body as she climbed the stairs and the blush darkened. She paused and heard him stop just a few steps behind her. “She’s my best friend. I appreciate you calling off the brute squad.”
He stepped up to stand directly behind her. “My pleasure,” the velvet voice whispered in her ear. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask of me?”
“Yes.” She turned and met his dark gaze, the extra stair making her his equal in height. “Would you tell me if Carine has any reason to be angry with you?”
“She is quite spoiled, Miss Galen, by myself and the rest of her house. If she is angry, she hasn’t said so to me. She did, however, mention your – interest. Should I assume she wasn’t serious?”
“No – she was. She claims you sometimes…”
“Hike up skirts?” He smiled when she stared. “I know all the stories. It’s hardly a shock to me.”
“Is it true?”
“Sometimes – if a young lady is of age and seeks me out … and if she is capable of discretion.”
“Someone wasn’t discrete or it wouldn’t be a rumor.”
He smiled. “It’s a Slytherin rumor. There is a difference.” The crowd filled the close space with deafening noise again. As it subsided, he added, “I don’t normally consider someone outside of my house … but you could be an exception.”
Arelia felt trapped between her desires and her fears. The excitement his closeness created in her was alarming and delicious at once. Before she could think about it, she was leaning in to kiss him. To her surprise, he stepped back.
“This is hardly the place for that.”
She saw where he was, standing just opposite the catwalk. Part of her still wanted to walk away, but she stepped down to pass him instead, slipping onto the catwalk. Her heart was pounding as she waited to hear if he would follow, but when he did, the fear only increased. Her feet wouldn’t stop. She walked to the couch, stood beside it, and turned to face him as he came up in her wake.
“I’m a little nervous,” she muttered, backing up as he advanced.
“You’re afraid. You needn’t be, yet this isn’t a good time. Miss Lachlan will be looking for you and the team is hopelessly superstitious about my presence in the stands. We should return.”
Arelia felt confused and relieved at once. “You don’t want to…?”
“Want is not the problem; I don’t wish to handle this crudely.”
He stepped up to her and lifted her chin with his fingertip. Bending his head down, he brushed his lips lightly over hers, soft as the touch of a moth’s wings. She melted, her thoughts numbing. When she opened her mouth, he allowed his tongue to explore her, but she made the kiss deepen. It stopped when he stepped away.
She opened her eyes and saw him holding out his hand to her. “Where?” She couldn’t think of what else to say.
“Back. If you wish, you may see me tonight. I will be in my office after nine. If I don’t see you by ten, I will leave you in peace.”
She let him lead her out. On the stairs, they parted. She entered the bleachers and he continued up the stairs to the box seats. Carine was sitting where they had been before but the Hufflepuff Captain was gone. Arelia sat beside her and watched the game in silence. Her friend put an arm across her shoulders.
“Encountered him, did you?” Carine whispered. “Did you like it?”
“He didn’t do anything but kiss me.”
“I wanted him to do more.”
“So that’s it?”
“No. He said I could meet him tonight.”
“Arelia, that’s a good thing. Try not to look so shocked.”
They were still sitting in the bleachers long after the rest of the throng had headed back to the school. Slytherin had won but neither of them had paid attention to the end of the game.
“I was really expecting him to be a beast, that’s all.”
“I hope that’s not a complaint.”
“No. It’s just – surprising.”
“Obviously. Okay, here’s the plan. Go fetch that maroon blouse, the silk one, and the gathered black skirt. These boots will be fine. And that white lace bra and panty set. Meet me in the prefect’s bathroom and I’ll play moral support.”
~ ~ ~
Arelia was in the tub when she arrived. Carine heard her slide the bolt with magic. She opened the door and locked it again behind her.
“I filched us some grub from the kitchens,” she said, setting a neatly packed basket a house-elf had given her on the floor beside the pool. Tossing a folded towel down for a cushion, she sat and dug through the food.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were studying with him to be a tutor?” Arelia asked in a whisper.
“What?” She saw the serious concern on her friend’s face and gave up pretense. “He told you that?”
“Yes, but it hardly seems like something you couldn’t have told me yourself.”
“Did he say anything about it?”
“No. Why did you say Marcus was bothering you?”
“He was, and Hayden sort of freaked me out – but it’s stopped now.”
“Professor Snape already talked to them? He said he would.”
“I guess so. Okay, out, or you’ll be a prune.”
They had a picnic spread on a towel by the pool. Arelia sat on another towel cushion in her robe. For the first time since the start of school, they talked like they had the year before.
I wish I could tell you everything. Carine stifled a sigh. You want this … or you think you do … and I said I’d help you but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m leading you into a patch of Devil’s Snare.
“He said he wasn’t an ogre, but I’ve heard you say he was – plus a ‘bloody bat’.”
Carine smiled, trying to push away her doubts. “Slytherins are often casually disrespectful – even about him … just not to his face. Most of them worship the man, though. Even if it’s only because he lets them get away with anything in class.”
“You don’t sound worshipful.”
“I want you to understand something. I’ve heard things, okay? He can be – demanding, even cruel. Remember Rowan?”
Arelia nodded, watching her closely.
“Well, I talked to her a lot last year. She fell in love with him. He wasn’t amused. Happy to take what she offered but senseless to her feelings.”
“This is a fine time to tell me all this. I seem to recall something about an evil plot?”
“I’m just saying – don’t fall for him. It’s sex. Get in and get out. Enjoy it, and then walk. No strings.”
“It’s attraction and mystery, not love. You can’t love someone you don’t know, and I’m not doodling ‘Mrs. Arelia Snape’ on my parchments. Don’t worry – I’ll be okay. I’ll be a nervous wreck, but I’ll be okay.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pull you along and then tell you horror stories. It’s not so bad, and the nerves go away after a while.”
“So are you planning on launching your own attack soon? I thought your evil plot involved a parallel effort.”
“Well, I’m in his house. It won’t be that hard for me to importune him. So I’m helping you launch yours. After all, this is inter-species breeding.” She grinned.
“Gee, that sounds appetizing.”
From nine until nine forty-eight, Severus graded papers at his desk. When the half hour mark had passed, he had assumed she wouldn’t show up – but if he got this stack of work finished, he could have an uninterrupted Sunday with his pet.
A few minutes before ten, someone knocked on the door. He watched the remaining dark sands in his iron hourglass run out before calling out a gruff order for the person to enter. Arelia Galen opened the door and stood there, the handle still in her hand.
“In or out, Miss Galen,” he said absently, going back to checking one of the last parchments.
She came in and shut the door. “May I sit?”
“Of course,” he replied, without looking up. “I’ll only be a moment.” He lingered over the last sheet to see if she would fidget in her chair. When she did, he set the stack aside and regarded her coolly. “Two minutes to spare. You must not think highly of my rumored talents. Or,” he added, “you’ve changed your mind but still want to speak to me.”
“I haven’t changed my mind.”
He smiled. He knew she hadn’t meant her answer to imply that the first option was the truth, but the blush that rose on her pale cheeks when she realized the faux pas was charming.
“I’ve already broached the subject that I normally keep this sort of meeting between Slytherins, yet it bears repeating.”
“I can be as discrete as you like.”
“What exactly are you seeking?”
“What? You know…”
“Sex?” When she nodded, he added, “I should think if you are going to engage in something, you ought to be able to say the word.” He leaned back in his chair, drew his wand, and began flipping it deftly between the fingers of his right hand. “Miss Lachlan said you were inexperienced. So let me rephrase the question. What sort of experience do you want?”
“I – wasn’t expecting a pop quiz, sir.”
“Allow me to answer for you, then. You want sex – preferably pleasant, perhaps even romantic?” His fingers still toyed with his wand. Look at me. Show me. She raised her eyes to his. Legilimens. Images flowed out to him from her thoughts, her memories. So it’s that, and that. Yes…
“I don’t need romance.”
Severus stood and watched her shift nervously in the chair before she rose. “Come along to my chambers, Miss Galen. I think you’ll be much more comfortable there.”
“Once there, you’ll make some effort to be a gentleman?”
“Certainly.” He stood by the closed door. When she didn’t move, he added, “Do you wish assurances?”
“You’re a little – inconsistent. This afternoon…”
“I see – and this evening you find my attitude cynical and abrupt?”
“I was going to say crass and rude, but yes.”
He noted the slight tremble of her fingers. The dichotomy of her sexual fear and verbal assertiveness was intriguing. If she hadn’t literally waited until the last minute, souring his mood with impatience, it might have been simpler to keep the alluring pretense of that afternoon intact. Yet if he wished to convince her, let alone put her at ease, he would have to set aside his irritation and resume the other approach again.
I hope the charade is worth it. “Miss Lachlan has no doubt warned you that I can be … what is the most common phrase? A ‘moody bastard’. As I am self-aware enough to know it’s true, I will apologize. This has been a trying day, I’m afraid, with the exception of our brief talk. I spent most of it after our victory in the hospital wing seeing to three separate players. That is not an excuse, but it is a reason, for the erosion of my manners.”
“Thank you and I’m sorry, too – I forgot about those boys getting hurt. I was talking to Carine more than watching the game. Will they be all right?”
“Yes. They were all seventh years and seasoned flyers, but the hunt for victory can blind them to other aspects of the sport – such as Bludgers, enemy Beaters, and of course, the ground. Garland’s broom was the only casualty.” He held his hand out to her.
She stepped forward and took it. “Garland. He’s the one with the flat face, isn’t he? I hope that’s not from repeats of his injury today.”
“No,” he said, smiling. “He managed to break the nose prior to his first year and his idiot Muggle parents didn’t get it treated properly.” Severus watched her blink at him, watched her decide not to be offended by his insult to Muggles. “Yet if the fool doesn’t learn to pull up faster, he’ll save them burial expenses some day.” He raised her hand to his lips and gave her fingers a feathery kiss. “Shall we?”
“Professor, I want to be clear – if I feel uncomfortable at any point –”
“It is therefore my intention to make you as comfortable as I can, Miss Galen.”
He led her out of the office and down the hall. The only person they saw on the way was the Bloody Baron, but the Slytherin ghost already knew all of his secrets.
Enjoy your peace tonight, Miss Lachlan. He arched an eyebrow as they passed the hidden door of the common room. Though I wonder at your motives in this; what do you gain by feeding your friend to me?
Author’s Note: I appreciate everyone’s patience. I was on vacation and I’ve also been working on a Supernatural Big Bang, DCBB, and then after vacation, the ceiling had fallen in at my house – about a two foot hole! – and everything stopped for repairs. Such fun. Back on track now. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic) (anongrimm.tumblr.com)