“How long were you planning on standing outside my door?”
Serena smiled and thankfully welcomed Severus’ familiar manner that chased away her nervousness. “I am right on time. I didn’t want to be too early.”
Snape sneered. “I thought perhaps you might not be here for another half an hour, knowing your fondness for making an entrance.”
The smile left Serena’s face. “You are not going to chase me away, Severus,” she replied quietly, staring evenly at him.
He looked away, stepped back, and gestured for her to come in. She walked through the door and entered a cozy sitting room. Her eyes swept the room, taking in the very unSnape-like décor. The room was a mixture of black and dark green colors. There was a fire in the fireplace which made the room glow with a warm light. In front of the fire sat two black, comfortable looking chairs. Between the two chairs was a table, upon which Serena saw the book she had given him earlier, along with a parchment and quill. She felt a sense of triumph. Obviously, his opinion was not the only one that mattered. Next to the book and parchment was a jet-black tea set. She bit her lip, trying to keep from smiling. Severus might appear annoyed, but he had definitely prepared for this meeting.
She walked towards one of the chairs and took a seat. Looking up at Severus, she saw that he was still standing by the door.
“Severus, you have a very nice sitting room. It is not at all what I pictured.”
Snape walked to the other chair, sat down, and folded his arms across his chest. “And what exactly did you picture? A cold stone room with cobwebs in all the corners and creatures skittering across the floor?” he asked silkily.
Serena laughed. “Precisely. However, I am pleasantly surprised. This room is lovely.” She arched an eyebrow and smiled slightly. “You are undeniably a mysterious and fascinating man.”
Serena was pleased to see a light blush spread up Severus’ cheeks. Clearing his throat, he pointed toward the book. “Shall we get started?”
Serena looked pointedly at the tea set. “Don’t you want a cup of tea?”
Snape just glared at her subtle reminder of his lack of hospitality. She gracefully picked up the kettle and poured two cups. She looked at Severus and asked, “Do you take milk or sugar?”
“One lump,” he said brusquely, and then added, “please.” Serena would never have pictured Severus as the type who liked his tea sweet, but she filed the information away for future use.
Serena dropped one lump of sugar into his teacup, stirred slightly, and handed Severus his cup. He took the cup from her hands, but refused to meet her eyes. Settling back in her chair, she picked up the book and opened to the first chapter. After she read a few pages into the introduction that Jacques had written about the use of potions in defense against the Dark Arts, Snape stopped her.
“What role did you play in Potions at Andréa’s?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” she replied, confused by his question.
“You seem pretty knowledgeable about potions. Did you ever consider teaching Potions instead of Dark Arts?”
She smiled, thinking she knew where he was heading. “I love Potions, but I love Defense more. Most magic seems so neutral. However, as you know, the Dark Arts were created for the sole reason to cause harm. Ever since I was little, I wanted to learn, and now teach, how to be protected from it. Raulbia was kind enough to let me indulge in my other passion. He and I would often discuss how to use potions in my class and we came up with some interesting ideas.”
Snape was quiet for a moment, studying the bottom of his empty teacup. “What happened when you were little to cause your fascination with the Dark Arts?”
Serena stiffened. This was not where she thought this conversation had been heading. Closing the book, she placed it back on the table. “What makes you think something happened?”
Snape glanced up at her, noting the tautness of her shoulders and face. “The desire to learn to protect yourself from dark magic does not evolve naturally. It is shaped by horrors in our past.”
Her eyes flickered over his seemingly impassive face. “You sound like you know first hand the horrors that can cause such an interest.”
“Perhaps,” he replied, meeting her eyes, his expression cool.
Serena looked at the fire and sighed. “When I was nine, my best friend’s parents were tortured and killed by a dark wizard who lived in our area.” She glanced back at Snape. “Do you know what they did to deserve such a horrific death?”
Severus shook his head no.
“They refused to allow him a place of refuge. Her parents told him that they would not endanger their child’s life by allowing a known killer to stay in their home. So brave, yet so foolish.” She smiled sadly. “She watched them die.” She looked at Snape’s shocked expression. “He made her watch. He pulled her from her bed and told her that she was the reason her parents were dying. That she would always be alone because she was cursed. After their deaths, I was obsessed with learning how to protect my friend and maybe more selfishly, myself and my family.”
“What happened to your friend?” Snape asked.
“She came to live with my family. She was already as close to me as a sister would be, so it just made sense for her to come to live with us. But she was never the same. She often would withdraw into solitude and did not want anything to do with magic. I, on the other hand, was the opposite. I couldn’t get my hands on enough magic. But it never seemed to be enough.” Her voice trailed off and her hand went unconsciously to the charm hidden under her gown.
Serena dropped her hand and shifted uncomfortably. How did she end up sharing all this with Severus? Serena hated thinking about the past, and even worse, she hated talking about it. She narrowed her eyes and looked at Severus. What was it about him that made her so comfortable to reveal what she was really feeling? First, last night, and now she was telling him about Mariesa? Serena liked to feel and appear independent, even if underneath it all, it was a façade. He must think she was truly a pathetic and emotional woman. She plastered a smile on her face and gripped the arms of the chair tightly.
“So now you know the tragic history of how I became interested in the Dark Arts,” she laughed, trying to shake off the maudlin feelings that threatened to overtake her.
“What happened to the wizard?” Snape pressed.
“He was killed shortly after her parents' death. So, all’s well that ends well, right?” she replied bitterly.
They sat quietly together watching the fire. Finally, Serena picked up the book again and glanced at Snape.
“Do you want me to finish the introduction?”
He nodded slightly, allowing her to distance herself from her memories. He knew what it was like to want to forget the past. He listened as Serena finished reading the long introduction. He smiled slightly, enjoying the way she pronounced certain words in her accent. He put his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, the hypnotic quality of her voice making him feel drowsy. Suddenly, she stopped reading and closed the book, placing it back on the table. He heard her get up and tiptoe towards him. He felt her bend over him and brush away the hair that had fallen across his cheek, but he still did not open his eyes, waiting to see what she would do next.
“Thank you, Severus. For some strange reason, I feel like I can talk to you, and you won’t judge me or worse, pity me.” She stroked his brow lightly with her fingertips. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He listened as she quietly walked out the door and closed it behind her. He opened his eyes and stared into the fire; afraid to examine the feelings she was creating in him.
Serena sat at her desk grading the fourth years’ essays on grindylows and other underwater creatures and letting her mind wander. Christmas break was a few weeks away, and the essays showed the students’ preoccupation with vacation and loss of interest in schoolwork. The last month had flown by quickly. Her days had been spent becoming familiar with her classes. She was pleased with the knowledge her students had. They were aware of Red Caps, Pogrebin, and many other subjects usually covered in later years. Professor Lupin had been a conscientious teacher and had made sure his students were well informed about the dark creatures they might be faced with later. Besides that, the students appeared to have adored him. She had never heard of a professor spoken of with such obvious respect and love. She smirked. Well, except for the Slytherin house, but they appeared to be partial only to Snape.
However, as much as she loved her classes, the best part of her day turned out to be the time she spent with Severus. They had started meeting three times a week, but that had soon evolved into a daily engagement. They had such riveting discussions about everything covered in Raulbia’s books. However, their arguments were more memorable. Serena smiled when she remembered the argument they’d had last night. She had been reading the chapter on the Potion of Fire and its use against Inferi. About halfway through the chapter, Severus snorted loudly. She looked up and glared at him.
“Is there something wrong?”
“That has got to be the most ridiculous potion I have ever heard of.”
Serena just stared at him. “What? Why would you say that?”
“Why would you risk your life to use a potion, when fire works well enough to scare them off?” He sat smugly in his chair; sure that Serena wouldn’t be able to argue with that point.
She calmly looked at him. “True, fire works well enough to frighten them, but this potion will destroy them, not just scare them away.”
“Preposterous. There is no such potion that can do that. Has it been tested? Until it has been field tested, then I highly doubt its validity.”
Serena held up the book. “Perhaps if you would allow me to finish reading without interrupting, you would learn that it has indeed been field tested and it does work.” She arched her eyebrow at him and asked, “Does that put your mind at ease?”
Snape glared at her and growled, “What kind of idiot would do something that foolish?”
Serena smiled. “I guess this idiot would.”
Snape sputtered, “You? Why would Raulbia make you test the potion?”
“He didn’t make me test anything. It was my potion and I wanted to test it.”
Severus looked shocked. “Your potion? I thought all the potions in this book were Raulbia’s.”
Serena studied her fingernails. “I never said that.”
“Then you are more foolish than I first thought. No wom-” He stopped and glanced at Serena knowing he had just gone too far.
Her head whipped up and she gave Severus an icy glare. “Go ahead, Severus, finish it. No woman, what? Should be allowed to create potions? Test potions?” At his silence, she prodded, “Come on, I really want to know.”
Snape turned from her cool look and gazed into the fire. “No woman should put herself in harm’s way if it is unnecessary.” He looked back at her, his expression solemn. “You should know by now that I respect you, and all women, enough to know that you can create potions as well as men.”
“Well, those are kind words, Severus, but I am still unsure why you believe that men are allowed to place themselves in danger, but women aren’t.”
Snape glared. “You are putting words in my mouth. I never said that men should put themselves in danger, but the loss of a woman, whether she is a mother, wife, daughter, or sister, is not something one can get over easily.” He sank back in his chair a furious look on his face.
Serena felt as though he had just revealed something he hadn’t meant to. Had Severus lost someone? Someone he had loved? Serena felt a pang of jealousy, which she quickly pushed away. “I’m sorry that I jumped to conclusions. I guess I’m still just trying to prove to everyone that I am more than just a woman.” Her lips twitched. “And you were right.”
Severus looked at her, a stunned expression on his face.
Serena continued. “It was pretty foolish. I did get cornered by a group of Inferi. Thankfully, though, my potion did work.” She smiled smugly and crossed her arms.
Severus laughed. “I thought you were incapable of admitting you were wrong.”
“Well, I may have been wrong about the danger, but I wasn’t wrong about the potion,” she chuckled.
Severus just shook his head and smiled slightly at her.
Serena dropped her quill on the desk and rubbed her eyes. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was half past six. Sighing, she stood up and stretched. She needed to return to her room before dinner to freshen up. As she made her way to her chamber, she hummed under her breath, looking forward to the time she would soon spend with Severus. She didn’t realize that under her robe, the moon charm was humming as well. For a presence was drawing near, a presence that would change everything.