By the end of following week, Snape had actually congratulated himself on avoiding Lucius. Monday evening came and Snape stayed in his office, straining a batch of armadillo bile. No one came by except Lupin, who was by that point on the verge of bursting with the need to ask about the scroll. Lupin hemmed and hawed a bit, while Snape made it evident he was busy (though straining armadillo bile was no great feat), until at last Snape spoke.
Not taking his eyes from the bile, he said “I have not and will not meet Lucius, as I am not interested in anything he has to say.”
Lupin said nothing, but Snape could almost feel his relief.
“Of course, of course, good,” Lupin said a bit too quickly, then “I will see you Friday evening. What about walking to the Three Broomsticks with me instead of sitting here?”
“I shall consider it,” Snape intoned, and Lupin excused himself.
Snape was also congratulating himself on avoiding an entanglement with the Ancient Runes professor. Of course, he had mostly managed to accomplish this by staying almost exclusively in his rooms, avoiding the faculty lounge, the hall by her classroom (which was difficult, as it was close to the Great Hall; he had to take the long way around), and the Great Hall entirely save for when hunger actually threatened to make him physically faint.
Thus, when Friday came he was actually eager for a bit of a walk and some time away from his rooms. It was a horrid day, with a cold spitting rain that threatened a downpour, but Snape thought this an advantage, as no doubt the bar wouldn’t be as crowded as it might have been on a Friday evening in better weather. Plus a walk and a bar gave him a chance for a bit of a smoke. He was down to ten a week, a good thing he supposed, since he was apparently going to live after all. He could have given them up entirely, but the fact that his habit annoyed Dumbledore was reason enough to keep it.
“You’re expecting free beer, aren’t you?” Lupin asked as they walked.
To this Snape merely gave a low chuckle. “You’re shagging the bartender,” he said, “so of course I am.”
The arrived at the Three Broomsticks and Rosmerta waved them in, patting Lupin on the shoulder and commencing with some twaddle about how well he looked, how relieved she was that “that horrid Greyback” was not on the loose (no doubt for the thousandth time), and all manner of other idiotic chatter.
To Snape she said nothing. All to the better.
Lupin finally disengaged himself from Rosmerta, and they made their way over to the end of the nearly empty bar, where Winslow Oxbox was in the process of swabbing mugs to a high gloss and setting them beside the mirror behind him. With distaste, Snape noted the color of Oxbox’s hair, as ginger as any Weasley’s. Snape wondered idly if he was a distant relative, but as Oxbox was American, that was not likely. Oxbox also was not terminally annoying and/or incompetent, as every Weasley in his acquaintance seemed to be. A point in his favor.
Snape certainly did not wonder what Lupin saw in the man. Oxbox practically oozed testosterone. He was all bone and muscle, bred for standing behind a plough, it seemed, not a bar. As with his ginger hair and his place of origin, Snape was slightly suspicious of that as well. Still, Snape sensed that Lupin could have done far worse. Certainly the bartender was a distinct improvement over Sirius Black.
In addition, Winslow knew how to pull a mug of stout, an art Rosmerta never did seem to have mastered, busy as she was with flirting with the customers and attempting to be the center of attention. And though Snape’s presence did not invite conversation, he noticed that Winslow never seemed to talk any more than necessary—to anyone. In fact he was positively somber, which Snape found refreshing. It was an odd characteristic for a bartender, but in a strange way it made sense. Rosmerta did not like being upstaged.
Snape seated himself, and watched Oxbox slowly pull a mug of stout and then slide the glass toward him. He accepted it wordlessly, but at the first sip Snape’s eyebrows lifted a bit, and he looked at the bartender with something like approval.
"Mandrake’s Obsidian,” said Oxbox in his deep voice. “I thought you’d like it…” Then he pulled another mug of stout (though not from the same tap) for Lupin.
Lupin and Snape were almost through their glasses before either of them said anything. The bar was quiet, the beer was excellent, and it was the end of a long week. Snape was beginning to think that it was not going to be such a bad evening after all.
“What’s that, Lupin?” Snape asked at last, angling his head toward Lupin’s glass.
Lupin mumbled something unintelligible.
“What?” Snape repeated.
To this Lupin didn’t reply at all, and looked suddenly embarrassed.
Oxbox gave Snape a half-smile. “Netherworld Cocoa Cream.”
Severus Snape laughed out loud.
“I knew you’d find it amusing,” Lupin said, furrowing his brow, as Snape continued to hold his stomach, laughing with seemingly inexhaustible mirth, “but taste it. Really.”
Snape finally calmed himself and drained the last of the stout in his glass, sliding it back to Winslow, who began pulling him another. “If I wanted a milkshake I would go into Puddifoot’s,” he said.
“Seven percent alcohol,” said Oxbox. “It’s no milkshake.”
Snape made a harrumphing noise, which was swallowed by his glass as he took the first mouthful of his own draft.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something extremely unnerving. Or rather, someone extremely unnerving. Professor Jane Flintrammel. She was coming in from the cold, and was taking a table on the other side of the room, away from the draft of the door. Snape’s insides did a flip, and then another, as she lowered her hood to her shoulders, and began unfastening her cloak. He could not stop himself from thinking how her scent would be different now, how the dampness of the wool and the pure smell of the rain would mingle with her cooled skin. The thought made him instantly aroused. Then she began to slide the cloak off her shoulders, and her breasts pushed forward, straining against the grey wool of her dress. Even from across the room he could see that they were crowned with nipples thimble-hard from the cold.
Merciful Heaven. Snape’s cock twitched like some sort of fleshy dowsing rod as in one swallow he drained the remaining stout in his glass.
As he did, he saw Winslow’s eyes dart to Jane, and back to meet Lupin’s. Lupin saw her then, and his shoulders hunched a bit. He was surprised. A good thing for him, Snape thought, because if Remus Lupin had planned this, the world might quickly have been deprived of one of its werewolves.
Then Lupin waved at her, a friendly acknowledgement only, not a beckoning to join them. Snape was safe, at least for now.
For a long while, the three men said nothing. Snape noticed that Jane had bravely ordered some tea (not the best idea at the Three Broomsticks), and he was watching her out of the corner of his eye, fascinated, as she fished the teabag out of the hot water with her spoon, weaving the string around and around, pulling it and squeezing until the last of the liquor dripped into her cup. She dropped two cubes of sugar into it then, and Snape nearly recoiled as he watched her sip approvingly (sugar in tea was an abomination, as far as he was concerned). But then he thought how her mouth would taste now, hot from the tea and sweet from the sugar and…
Lupin broke the silence. “If one of us doesn’t go over there, she’ll think we’re avoiding her,” he said quietly.
Snape snapped out of his reverie and tapped the bar, and Winslow slid him a third glass. “We are avoiding her,” Snape growled.
Lupin let his eyes rove over to his colleague, who was still sitting solitarily on the other side of the room. “You are avoiding her,” he said. “I rather like her.”
Snape was actually curious. What cause did Lupin have to like the woman, anyway?
“On what grounds?” Snape asked. “Certainly you don’t want a sexual relationship with her.”
Lupin chuckled. “My, I didn’t know you had such a filthy mind, Severus. Is that the only purpose a woman might have for you? Sex?”
“Quite,” said Snape, raising an eyebrow, “as you are already holding the position of ‘general annoyance’.”
“For your information she’s quite pleasant to be around. Has a good sense of humor. I spent Halloween with her you know, at her mum’s flat in Edinburgh.”
“Sounds perfectly delightful,” Snape said, his voice icy.
“Oh, spare me the sarcasm. You’d have gone too, if you’d had the good sense to get yourself invited. Her mother’s quite a famous Arithmancer, you know…”
Snape stopped himself from asking who she was. Instead, he said “Everyone knows that Arithmancers are the most boring creatures on earth.”
“She’s hardly boring,” said Lupin.
At this Winslow Oxbox interrupted, chuckling. “You’re only saying that because she tried to get in your pants.”
Snape made a disgusted noise. “Then she’s boring and stupid, and no doubt a slut as well.” Actually what Snape thought was that Jane’s mother was probably far too interesting for her own good, and most definitely far too interesting for Jane’s.
“No, Eva just likes a challenge.”
Eva? He couldn’t mean…
“Really, we should invite her over,” Remus was saying, “or go over there.”
“Go on, then,” Snape frowned. “Skip over there and talk to her. No one is stopping you.”
“She thinks you hate her, you know,” Lupin said softly.
What Snape wanted right at that moment was to warm Jane’s nipples with his tongue. Was that hate? He didn’t think so.
“Let her think that. Better for everyone,” he said.
At that moment, much to his relief, Minerva and Hagrid came in, and giving a wave to Lupin and Snape, proceeded to make their way to Flintrammel and settle themselves. Obviously she had been waiting for them.
“Well, I’m going over there,” Lupin said airily, as he stood.
“Take this with you…” Oxbox murmured, pulling Lupin another glass and handing it to him.
Snape sat glued to his chair, inwardly seething as Lupin made his way over, and the three professors happily made room for him. After that it was just him and Winslow Oxbox, who continued to swab glasses, occasionally casting glances at the now-surly Potions professor as if he were trying to gauge whether or not he should break the nervous silence.
“Please don’t say anything,” Snape said at last, scowling. “I would hate to spoil a perfectly functional relationship with conversation.”
Oxbox gave him the slightest nod, accompanied by an equally slight knowing smile, and continued polishing the glassware, as Severus Snape suddenly gathered himself up and without a backward glance swept out of the Three Broomsticks and out into the icy, darkened air of Hogsmeade.