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Thirteen Months

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March is the month of expectation, the things we do not know.

“Out.”

“But--” The young man’s protest was halfhearted. Snape suspected he wanted to leave his cottage nearly as badly as Snape wanted him gone.

“Out,” Snape repeated in his most dangerous tone of voice. The tone that said, Make me repeat myself again, and you will be turned into a small toad.

The young man--a sixth-year called Markham or Marston or perhaps Smith--blanched but, Snape was almost impressed to see, stood his ground. “The headmistress wanted March’s supplies to be fresh, not--”

Snape raised a meaningful eyebrow. Toad, it expressed clearly. Or something worse.

Marley or Maidstone’s protest died in his throat. He didn’t glance back as he beat a hasty exit out the front door. Snape could hear the thump thump of his trainers as he ran down the stone steps.

“Smart lad,” Snape murmured to the empty room. He’d had to Transfigure the last student into a newt before he’d taken the hint. Why did Minerva insist on sending him students with less native intelligence than below-average flobberworms?

It wasn’t as though their appointed task even required brainpower. Journey to Snape’s cottage on the Cornish shore on the first Sunday of every month, take possession of whatever fresh plants or dried potion ingredients Hogwarts had requested from his magical garden, and give him next month’s order. Surely even a sniffle-prone schoolboy could do that much?

Evidently not. Maynard or Messick was the fifth student Minerva had sent since Snape had agreed to their arrangement nearly a year ago. In exchange for a constant supply of potion ingredients from his garden--amongst the finest in the Wizarding World--the headmistress had agreed to cease for once and all her campaign to get Snape to return to teaching. A profitable arrangement for both sides, Snape considered.

He would never again set foot at Hogwarts. Not after the bitter price he’d paid there. He refused to walk amongst those who’d been so eager to believe him a traitor. The war had been over for five years, and he himself had been exonerated for just over four, but old injuries healed slowly. Snape’s war wounds were of the psychic variety, but he preferred them bloody and gaping just the same.

*

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

April’s first Sunday dawned brisk and clear. Snape would have enjoyed the sunrise as he harvested the last monkshood of the season, if not for the certain knowledge that his solitude would soon be invaded by yet another pimply-faced go-between. Surely a scheme could be worked out whereby Minerva could Summon the plants directly from his garden.

Snape mused on the logistics of such an arrangement all through his breakfast of yesterday’s porridge, eaten in his garden shed for expediency’s sake, and through the mindless work of packaging the monkshood for its journey to Hogwarts. He was still thinking about it when he heard a soft cough from the direction of the plant room door.

He didn’t bother to look up from tying off the last of the monkshood at the potting bench. “You’ll have to wait. You will not touch anything. Half the plants in this room could kill you, and a great many of them would enjoy it. You will not utter any words with the possible exception of ‘Yes, sir,’ though you may find yourself with cause to regret saying even that much. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” The voice was too old to be a student’s. It was a bit scratchy, tinged with amusement, and--No, it couldn’t be.

Snape’s head shot up. He felt his jaw dropping involuntarily and shut his mouth firmly. He would not gape. It had been five years. Snape had looked forward to those years stretching out to a lifetime, but standing there, framed in his doorway, was Remus Lupin. Grayer than the last time he’d seen him, and if possible even thinner, but unmistakably his least favorite werewolf.

“Hello, Severus,” he said while Snape was still searching for words.

“Reduced to messenger boy, Lupin?” Snape finally managed, relieved that the sneer in his voice hadn’t been blunted by surprise.

“Something like that,” the werewolf said. He walked to Snape and peered curiously over his shoulder. Snape resisted the urge to yank the monkshood away dramatically.

“Surely Hogwarts enrollment isn’t so low as to force a faculty member to do the job of a schoolchild.”

“I volunteered,” said Lupin. “Minerva refused to... subject any more students to you. Her words.” He sounded almost apologetic.

Snape finished wrapping the monkshood. “Your plants are ready,” he said, stiffly handing the package to Lupin. He nodded at the corner where a pile of nettles lay already neatly tied, and strode to the door.

He heard Lupin’s soft voice behind him. “It’s been a long time, Severus. I thought perhaps we could have some tea.”

He didn’t bother to dignify that with an answer.

*

All things seem possible in May.

The order for May was Mandrake roots--nasty, whiny things, particularly difficult to harvest. Snape had just finished packaging them safely--a process requiring advanced magic since a Mandrake’s cry was fatal to humans--when he noticed one Mandrake was clutching a red flower.

He dropped the package in his entryway and walked back to his garden to investigate. It didn’t take long to locate the cluster of velvety flowers in the northeast corner of his plot. Snape recognized the stems as the gloxinia herb--relatively harmless, but not something he had planted. In a magical garden any intruding plants had to be eliminated immediately--the balance was too delicate to risk. The removal of these flowers shouldn’t give him any trouble. They were almost pretty.

The rest of the day was spent elbow-deep in soil, yanking out the gloxinia by its tuber-shaped roots. By the time the sun set, he was cursing all flowers, particularly those with goblet-shaped blossoms and a sickening smell of rotten apples, a smell that clung to his hands and clothes like Muggle perfume. He’d very nearly forgotten it was Lupin’s day to pick up the Hogwarts plants. At least he hadn’t thought of it more than once or twice a quarter-hour.

Rid of the damned gloxinia at last, Snape trudged up to his house. It was mercifully quiet and dark. He’d been half-worried Lupin would still be there, wanting to exchange confidences over teacakes.

The Mandrake roots were gone, so someone had come. Perhaps it had been a student; if Lupin knew what was good for him, he wouldn’t return to Snape’s cottage. Snape entered his kitchen in an almost cheerful mood--which abruptly ended when he saw the paper on his kitchen table.

No student would be foolish enough to leave him a note; Minerva had assured him his reputation survived intact. Lupin, then. Snape didn’t have to look closely to recognize the werewolf’s handwriting, all showy loops and flourishes. Ridiculous.

--I had thought to make myself some tea, but you seem to be out of it. Has living in exile reduced you so low?

He could feel an Unforgivable Curse in his mouth, just itching to be said. It was lucky Lupin was long gone.

*

I know well that the June rains... just fall.

In June it was an ivy infestation that kept him in his garden on the day of the Hogwarts pickup. The persistent vine had burst into existence a few days earlier and was fully-grown before Snape realized it was not the Creeping Sneezewort he had been expecting.

It was winding its way insidiously through his belladonna and showing no signs of slowing its growth, so it was necessary he eliminate it immediately, and not at all an excuse to again avoid seeing Lupin, who was perfectly capable of retrieving his package from the entryway on his own. Snape worked all through the afternoon, even when a thunderclap split the air, and he was engulfed in a brief but powerful summer shower.

Eventually, though, the battle was won. It was late afternoon; any unwelcome visitors surely had to be gone, so there was really no reason not to head back.

He’d clearly underestimated the wolf’s staying power, he realized as he walked up the path to his cottage. His house was brightly lit and oozed cheerfulness. He could practically hear the hearth crackling. Did Lupin have nothing better to do than harass him?

Lupin could not keep him out of his own house, no matter how much disgusting sympathy and camaraderie he was prepared to offer. Snape set his mouth in a firm line and opened his front door. Hearing the homey clatter of dishes, he headed for the kitchen. No doubt Lupin was at his cottage to try to get Snape to return to Hogwarts. He would offer some timeworn platitude about the immensity of Snape’s sacrifice, then ask Snape’s forgiveness for not having trusted him. Lupin was always seeking absolution from someone. It was one of his least attractive qualities.

No doubt he would then move on to the noble calling of teaching; Snape’s special gift for molding young minds; how much they all needed and wanted him at Hogwarts. He’d heard it all from Minerva, who’d phrased it far less extravagantly than the werewolf no doubt would. He really shouldn’t be surprised that she’d started sending deputies to recruit him back to Hogwarts. It wouldn’t work.

“It won’t work,” he said to Lupin as he entered the kitchen.

Lupin looked up from the fireplace where he was fussing with a tea kettle. “Seems fine to me,” he said, inspecting the kettle, apparently satisfied.

“Your plot,” Snape said. “Your little conspiracy.”

“You still don’t have any tea.” Lupin’s tone was reproachful. “Luckily I brought some Earl Grey. I always think the real thing is so much better than Conjured.”

“I’m not returning to Hogwarts.” He kept his voice firm.

Lupin’s eyes widened a moment; he seemed genuinely surprised. He poured out the tea, setting two china cups on the table. “Why on earth would I want you to return to Hogwarts?”

He took his place at the table, fixing Snape with an amused, patient look. This could not be borne. Snape sat down across from him, accepted a cup of tea, and met his gaze steadily. Neither man said a word for the rest of the afternoon, though Lupin’s mouth occasionally quirked in what was nearly a smile. Outside the rain started up again.

*

The Summer looks out from her brazen tower, through the flashing bars of July.

Hogwarts had no need of potion ingredients during July and August. There were no classes, no students, and very few magical plants flourished during the hottest months of the summer, anyway. Minerva would sometimes request that something be dried and stored for September, but that was the extent of Snape’s dealings with the school. He supplemented his income by doing business with the local apothecaries, and spent his time walking on the windswept Cornish shore, trying not to lose his mind from the boredom and humidity.

So it had not occurred to him to be worried about a visit from Lupin. He hadn’t even spent any time working up the dread that the last few months’ anticipation had brought. It came as a complete surprise to return from a ramble on the moors--which had proved hot and miserable--to find Lupin standing in the middle of his garden, inspecting the plants curiously.

“Is that Chinese Chomping Cabbage?” he asked as Snape approached. “I didn’t know it could be grown in Britain.”

“The things you don’t know could fill libraries.”

Lupin just laughed, curse him. “Why are you here?” Snape asked.

The other man shrugged. “I’m not a student. I don’t return home for the holiday. Didn’t seem to be any reason not to keep our appointment.”

The heat must have been getting to Snape, or else the seclusion, because suddenly even the appearance of the werewolf seemed like a welcome distraction from the monotony of the summer.

“As long as you’ve taken it upon yourself to intrude upon my privacy, you may as well come in the house and tell me what plants you want.” He fixed Lupin with his best sneer and strode toward the house. When he looked back, Lupin was just standing there, wearing an inordinately pleased expression on his face.

“Has the lycanthropy impaired your motor skills?” Snape rolled his eyes. “Come along. I have firewhisky.”

Lupin actually smiled. “Thank you, Severus. I should love some.”

It wasn’t until later, long after Lupin had left and Snape was watering the garden by moonlight, that he noticed a patch of sorrel plants peeking through the bubotubers, suspiciously close to the cabbage.

*

August rushes by like desert rainfall.

“Are you sabotaging my garden?”

“Hmm?” Lupin’s throat was occupied in swallowing a mouthful of the Cuthbert’s Finest Cognac he’d brought along this visit. He’d offered the bottle to Snape like a gift, an infuriating smile curling the corners of his mouth and distorting his face unattractively. Firewhisky apparently wasn’t good enough. When had the wolf become particular?

Snape watched Lupin’s pink tongue dart out to catch the last drop of amber liquid lingering on the rim of his glass. Disgusting. “My garden,” he repeated, forcing himself to look away from Lupin’s mouth. “What are you doing to it?”

“Is there something wrong with your garden, Severus?” Lupin’s face was a mask of concern and innocence.

“You know what’s wrong. Mysterious plants,” he continued at the other man’s blank look, “that suddenly appear after your visits.”

Lupin looked thoughtful. “It is a magical garden, Severus. What you plant is not always what you get.”

“Thank you. I don’t require advice from someone whose entire experience of gardens is digging them up during the full moon.”

There, that would wound Lupin, would take the placid smile off his face. But Lupin just poured himself another glass of cognac.

“I know you’re doing it.” The words burst from him hotly. He forced himself to calm. “I want to know why.”

“Why does one do anything?” The wolf’s eyes actually twinkled. Snape felt a sudden blinding rage. “It’s not me, Severus. I have no interest in plants.”

“You have an interest in--” He broke off.

“In what?” Lupin asked, sipping his drink.

In me, Snape had been about to say, before he’d realized how ridiculous that would sound. In hurting me, he amended in his mind.

Lupin looked at him curiously, but didn’t press for an answer to his question. “It’s a magical garden, Severus,” he said, pouring Snape another cognac and pushing it over to him, “perhaps it’s trying to tell you something.”

*

September: it was the most beautiful of words, he’d always felt.

He’d seen Lupin. He knew he had. He’d glanced out his bedroom window, which offered a distant view of his garden. The ground had been obscured by early morning mist in the cool air, but he’d been there, lurking.

He’d set wards since Lupin’s last visit. They should have gone off. The mirror next to his bedside should have captured a magical image of any intruders in his garden, but when he looked in it, all he saw was his own confused face. He threw it to the floor.

Still, Lupin had been there. He was sure of it, but when he looked again, all he saw was mist. Pulling on a dressing gown, he ran barefoot up the path.

Lupin was already gone. The man was not stupid. He hadn’t left any traces of himself, but pale green leaves veined with red--bergamot, Snape recognized--were poking through the darker green of Snape’s Mauling Mint.

Lupin didn’t show up for his Hogwarts order until hours later, when the autumn sun was high and the mist had long since departed. When Snape opened his mouth to demand answers, Lupin just held up an apologetic hand.

“Can’t visit today, I’m afraid. Faculty meetings all afternoon. Term begins tomorrow, you know. Are these for me?”

He grabbed the package of herbs Snape had wrapped for Hogwarts, and with a small smile he was gone, the crack of Apparition sounding in his wake. Snape closed his mouth on all the angry words he wanted to say and made himself a cup of the tea Lupin had left behind on a previous visit. It was his fury with the man that was making him feel unbalanced and ill. He was by no means disappointed to be denied the werewolf’s precious company.

*

I have been younger in October than in all the months of spring.

Lavender, of all things, was growing in his garden. Hopelessly out of season and smelling like Snape’s maternal grandmother, the one who’d dressed him in sailor suits as a child. He wished, not for the first time, that wand work and a spell would destroy these invading plants, but the soil in his garden was too powerful for that, too infused with magic. Of course Lupin would know that.

“Is this part of your plan?” he asked. “Do you have a plan, or is it just torment?”

“Plan?” If Snape heard that tone of mild befuddlement one more time, he would strike him on the nose. He didn’t care if that meant Lupin would never come again.

“Yes, plan. To lure me back to Hogwarts.”

“There’s no plan, Severus.”

“Ah, just torment, then,” he said.

*

What joy sufficient hath November felt?

A storm was coming. Already a light snow was falling. Winter meant the end of the season for most of Snape’s outdoor plants. A few hearty grasses would survive, the semi-sentient plants would hibernate, and the Snow Lilies would thrive, but for the most part his gardening would now be done in his greenhouse.

It was a bitterly cold walk from the greenhouse to his cottage. It was ridiculous to cast a Warming Spell for such a short distance, no matter how much he was shivering. So it was only the prospect of warmth that caused his heart to leap as he turned up the path and saw his house was already occupied, the kitchen brightly lit.

Lupin had made coffee this time, and as Snape entered, he was pouring generous shots of firewhisky into the steaming cups. Snape gratefully accepted his. Perhaps the wolf did have his good points.

He felt warmed enough by the coffee to be generous. “How are the students this term?” he asked, taking another sip.

Lupin raised an eyebrow, but seemed pleased. “Much the same as ever,” he replied. “I have a Longbottom cousin in my first-year class.”

Snape winced. “Lock him in the broom closet. If he runs true to form, he won’t find his way out until seventh year.”

“Severus.” Lupin’s tone was reproachful, but Snape saw a smile crinkle around his eyes.

Snape was suddenly back in his teaching days. Potter, and that insufferable Granger girl, and the utter incompetence of all first-years. “Better you than me,” he said with fervor.

Lupin looked at him curiously. “You really don’t miss it?” He leaned forward. “Nothing about those years?”

Sweet Merlin, no. Faculty disputes and communal dinners and sticky children incapable of stirring a cauldron let alone performing magic. The power had been nice, he supposed, and he always got a small thrill marking A for Awful on an exam, but he was well rid of the place.

Lupin was still leaning forward--his curiosity had taken on an intensity Snape didn’t understand. “Wasn’t there any part of those days you regret leaving behind?” Snape felt Lupin’s restless eyes searching him for... something. Lupin’s hand moved through the air toward him a moment, before settling itself back on the table.

Whatever message Lupin was trying to impart was not getting through. It was his own fault for pouring so much firewhisky into the coffee, Snape reasoned, and refused to worry about it. “Where are you getting your Wolfsbane Potion?” he asked suddenly.

Taken by surprise, Lupin settled back in his chair. “Hmm?”

“Wolfsbane. You have been taking it, I assume?”

“Minerva has a supplier in Liverpool.”

“She’s being swindled. You look terrible.”

“Do I?” Lupin’s expression turned from puzzled to amused. “Well, not everyone has your skill with potions, Severus.”

“I can make you some.” Snape heard the words. Had he meant to say that?

Now Lupin was looking pleased again. A broad smile split his face. Something in Snape’s stomach twisted painfully.

“That is, naturally I am quite busy, and it’s a time-consuming potion.”

“Oh,” said Lupin, in a duller voice.

“But you mustn’t be allowed to collapse from exhaustion in front of the students. If I have to, I’ll find some time to brew the potion.”

“I wouldn’t want to be a hardship.”

“I’ll brew it,” he said, speaking louder.

“Please don’t put yourself out, Severus.”

How had this gone beyond his control? Why in Merlin’s name had he been trying to please Lupin? The man couldn’t even be properly grateful.

“I’ll brew the damn potion, Lupin.”

“Really, Severus--” He stopped, held himself very still, and took a breath. Snape watched the fire slowly go out of his eyes. “How is your garden? Any more mysterious additions?”

“There’s a new rosemary bush that I didn’t plant, as you well know.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“No reason.” Lupin’s voice was as mild as ever. He stood. “But I think you may not be troubled much longer.”

He Disapparated before Snape could think of a proper comeback.

*

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December.

Snape didn’t really think Lupin would come. He brewed the Wolfsbane anyway, though it took three weeks and equipment he had to purchase specially.

When he heard the crack of Apparition, he refused to let himself believe it was Lupin. He ignored the stupid flutter in his stomach, a flutter that was only there at the prospect of exercising his potion skills again. The Wolfsbane still cooling in the cellar was a work of art; he’d made several improvements on the old formula.

So he was not at all surprised to walk into his entryway and find a skinny teenager in a Ravenclaw tie. And if he had been expecting this, then he could not be disappointed, despite what the lump in his chest was telling him.

The teenager froze at the sight of him like a Murtlap in headlights. Snape considered sending him a glare, but the prospect of terrorizing children seemed to have lost its glamour. Instead he merely nodded at the package in the corner marked “Hogwarts” and pressed a sealed cauldron of Wolfsbane Potion upon the Ravenclaw as he was leaving.

He worked in his greenhouse until it was late at night and his vision was fuzzing at the corners, but all the plants were just as they were meant to be, no mysteries.

*

January is here, with eyes that keenly glow.

The first Sunday in January marked the beginning of a new year. Snape didn’t feel any particular sentiment towards the date; every new year was very like the last, had been since the end of the war.

He was surprised by the sense of emptiness he awoke with. It wasn’t until after he’d breakfasted, bathed, and spent an hour in the greenhouse, that he recognized the feeling for what it was: yearning. Ridiculous, he thought to himself, and returned to the delicate work of pruning his Abyssinian Shrivelfig.

He had everything he needed, in his cottage and his garden and his solitude. He was his own master at last, with a responsibility only to himself and his plants, not spoiled brats and old men with warped tendencies toward self-sacrifice. He was no hero, had never wanted to be. Here on his own plot of land, with his hands in the dirt, he dealt in real things, not abstract concepts like honor. He didn’t need more.

The door to his greenhouse clicked open. Snape noted with almost clinical interest his stomach dropping and his fingers clutching the pruning shears tightly enough to whiten his knuckles. How ridiculous. It would either be Lupin, or some terrified child. Why didn’t he want to turn around to find out?

“Hello, Severus.” The werewolf’s familiar voice brought a wave of relief so powerful Snape had to hold onto the potting bench.

“You’re through punishing me, then?” he asked, still not turning.

“I wasn’t aware a lack of my presence could be considered a punishment.”

His voice was so coolly amused, so carefully controlled, that Snape’s relief turned instantly to rage. White-hot tendrils of anger raced through his body like the vines of a Devil’s Snare. He spun around, ready to curse Lupin or punch him, hand already blindly reaching for his wand.

Lupin just stood there, looking at the ground. The curse died on Snape’s lips. Lupin slowly lifted his head and looked at him with a face so open, for once so utterly without defenses, that Snape felt rooted to the spot, torn between horror and... something else.

Lupin still didn’t move, just looked at him with something like sorrow, and something like hopelessness, and something like... desire. He hadn’t known this. Had he known this? Powerful emotions washed over him--anger, fear, confusion. How dare the werewolf presume upon him like this after everything in their past? How dare he think that he--that they--

Some of his jumbled feelings must have shown on his face, because Lupin was smiling his sad little smile and had on his familiar expression of wry acceptance, as if he hadn’t expected anything else of Snape. No. He was not allowed that. That could not be stood for.

Snape crossed the greenhouse floor and sunk his fingers in the other man’s shirt. Lupin’s back made a satisfying thump as it hit the greenhouse wall, and his head made the glass ring as it followed, whipping back. He still had his deprecating smile, so Snape crushed their mouths together, until Lupin’s mouth changed, opening for him, kissing him back hungrily.

Snape shut his eyes tightly; the light refracting through the glass walls was suddenly blinding. He was kissing Lupin. No. He was pruning his shrivelfig, and then he had seeds to organize, and flowers to dry, and... He was kissing Lupin. How had he gotten here? How was his tongue suddenly in the werewolf’s mouth, fighting for dominance, sucking, being sucked? He would stop; he had to, but he couldn’t pull away, couldn’t give up the feeling of lips on flesh. His whole body ached with the kiss, until he felt completely unlike himself, unrecognizable in his own skin.

He dug his fingers fiercely into Lupin’s biceps; he wanted to leave bruises, he’d have left gouges if he could. Lupin just kissed back harder, moaning a little. Each needy sound the other man made went straight to his cock, until Snape was so hard he thought he would burst. He felt hands fumbling for his belt, trying to push into his trousers. He batted them impatiently away. Lupin, damn him, was too lust-stupid to coordinate his fingers. He felt obscurely proud that his own hands only shook slightly as he opened his fly.

Lupin’s own trousers were suddenly down--how had he managed that?--and then there was a hand on his cock, kneading him roughly. He bit down hard on Lupin’s neck to keep from crying out and was pleased to hear him gasp. He pushed his own hands onto Lupin, who was hard, and leaking, and felt a rush of heat at the feel of velvety skin. He worked him rough and hard without finesse, Lupin making utterly obscene growls the whole time until he came, spurting warm liquid through Snape’s fingers. Wiping his hand on Lupin’s sweater, he finally allowed himself to feel the wolf’s hand on his own cock, to lose himself in the sensation. He came suddenly, surprised at the power, and gasped for air.

When it was over, the last waves fading, he met Lupin’s eyes. The man was smiling with what looked like happiness for once, instead of the usual irony.

“That will never happen again,” he said. He wanted to dim Lupin’s smile; he needed to get back to a familiar place where he was someone he knew, where he could recognize himself.

“All right.” If anything, Lupin looked happier.

Snape didn’t say another word as Lupin cleaned up and left, but the werewolf’s smile never faded.

That night, unable to sleep, the memory of Lupin’s nimble hands running through his mind, he went to the greenhouse. He searched, poking through the green leaves and red blossoms, until he found it, nestled amongst the sage: tiny golden blooms--cowslip. He thought back to Lupin’s smile and suddenly understood.

*

February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.

He had Lupin on his knees before the sound of Apparition had faded away. Lupin responded admirably to the rough hands on his shoulders and in his hair, opening Snape’s trousers and taking him in his mouth without saying a word.

“It doesn’t work,” Snape said, fighting to breathe evenly. “It has no power.”

“Severus.” Lupin let Snape’s cock slip from his mouth with a pop and looked up at him. “Do you really want to talk now?”

“It’s just a superstition,” Snape said.

“What?” Lupin somehow managed to get the word out with his mouth around Snape’s cock. He could feel it thrum all the way up his body.

“Gloxinia--what does that mean, pride? And sorrel--affection,” he said, not moaning. “And, ha, lavender--distrust.”

“Severus.”

“It’s a language. Herbs. Their meanings.” His voice had turned ragged. “But it has no power.”

Lupin pulled back, his expression unreadable. “It’s not meant to.” He took Snape in his mouth again and didn’t stop sucking until he came with a shout. He stood, regarding Snape curiously, but didn’t ask for reciprocation. Snape didn’t offer.

“You said my garden was trying to tell me something,” Snape said, after they’d stared at each other long enough. “But it was you. Why didn’t you just tell me what you wanted to say?”

“Would you have listened?”

“Tell me now.” He stepped forward, suddenly desperate for words.

Lupin was silent, his face frustratingly blank. “I’ve said enough, I think,” he replied finally. “Probably too much.”

“You haven’t said anything. Tell me. Is it that you want me back at Hogwarts? Is it that you want--”

Me, he didn’t say. He wasn’t sure what he wanted the answer to be.

Lupin remained silent. “Cowslip--that’s happiness,” Snape said finally.

“Yes.” Lupin looked anything but happy.

“Bergamot is compassion. Ivy is friendship. What comes next?”

The sad smile was back. Lupin smoothed his clothes and looked around for his Hogwarts package, preparing to leave. “I’ve said all I have to say, Severus. It will have to be enough.”

*

Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.

March meant the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Someone ridiculous like Lupin would have no doubt celebrated the new season with nude sunrise pagan dancing, but to Snape it just signified the time had come to move the outdoor plants from the greenhouse to the garden.

The air was cold, still clinging to winter, but the sun shone brightly through gray clouds. Snape felt no sense of rebirth or renewal; even transplanting the spring cuttings with his hands in the newly soft earth brought him no peace. What had Lupin done to him? He felt restless. Alone instead of solitary.

The Hogwarts order was especially large this month--bubotubers, sage, aconite, and Sneezewort--so Snape was busy harvesting and wrapping all morning. He had no time to wonder who would do the pickup. Probably not Lupin--a new student, he supposed, with his luck a Gryffindor. But he wasn’t thinking about it, wasn’t planning what to say, in case.

He was just packaging the last of the sage when he heard the sound of Apparition back at the cottage. He grabbed his packages and hurried up the path.

He opened his door, unsure what to say, but knowing he had to make things right. “Lupin, I--”

“Hello, Severus.” Hogwarts’ headmistress stood in his entryway, curiously inspecting a portrait of a distant ancestor’s pug dog.

“Minerva.” He tried not to let the disappointment bleed into his voice.

“My, isn’t that dusty.” She trailed a finger along the picture frame. The pug took the opportunity to snap at her hand. “A simple Scourgify would do wonders in here.”

“Did you come to offer household hints, Minerva, or was there something else?”

She Conjured tea and two striped easy chairs. “Well,” she said, settling in, “I thought that since next month we’ll be going back to a student pickup of the Hogwarts order--”

“Lupin--” He felt a bit lightheaded. “Lupin won’t be coming anymore?”

“No.” She fixed him with a curious gaze. “I assumed you knew. I rather thought you’d worked it out between you.”

He took a seat in the other chair. She went on. “The student I’ve selected is called Barnwelby. He’s rather... high-strung. I want you to promise not to terrorize him too much.”

“Of course,” he replied automatically. Lupin was never coming back.

“Naturally you may terrorize him a little. That’s why I chose him. He needs toughening up. Well,” she said, standing, “that’s settled. Where are my plants?”

He gestured vaguely at the packages, then thought better of it and retrieved them for her.

“Thank you. Severus.” She looked at him seriously. “How are you, really?”

“Did Lupin--Did he give you a message for me?”

“No. Were you expecting one?”

Was he? “No. I suppose not.”

Her expression turned worried. She put a hand on his arm. “I haven’t asked in more than a year, so I believe I’m allowed an indulgence. You’re always welcome back at Hogwarts, you know. Your choice of subjects.”

She stepped back briskly, pulling her scarf tighter, and peering through the window at the gray clouds. “It’s quite gloomy out, isn’t it? You wouldn’t know it was the beginning of spring.”

Snape was so lost in thought that he didn’t hear her leave. He hadn’t really expected Lupin that month, but he hadn’t expected him to never come back either. And somehow, he’d thought there would have been some kind of message; he’d thought Lupin would have something to say to him. Was this how they were going to leave it?

The herbs in his garden had said so much, before Snape had known how to hear. Affection, friendship, remembrance, courage. Why hadn’t Lupin spoken directly? Was this his weird idea of courtship?

Would Snape have listened if Lupin had spoken to him in words? He was ready to listen now, just when there was no message.

No. He was suddenly sure there was something. Lupin would not have left it like this. Before he knew what he was doing, he found himself running up the path. Of course. It would be in the garden.

His heart pounded in time with his racing feet. He felt strangely elated. There would be something in his garden, and this time he knew what it would be, what it had to be. He stopped abruptly, falling to his knees right in the middle of his deadly nightshade, plowing through the plants with his hands. It was here; he was sure of it. The smells of crushed leaves assaulted his senses--the sugar sharpness of mint, the earthiness of sage.

Then, there it was, suddenly under his searching fingers, leaves bright green in the chill air. Sweet basil. He’d never planted it, but he knew its meaning--love.

Snape sat suddenly on the cold ground. He’d known what he would find--at least what he’d hoped--but the breath was knocked out of him anyway. What happened now? What could he say to Lupin?

He wasn’t sure how long he sat in his garden. The ground grew cold and the sky darkened. The plant leaves turned red and purple in the fading sunlight. Lupin loved him. Lupin, who was a golden boy at Hogwarts, who’d been in the inner circle, who he’d hated passionately even as he’d let himself think of him sometimes, alone in his bed at night. Lupin, who’d come back into his life when he’d wanted him gone, who was always somehow there, and who Snape trusted utterly and completely, he realized with a lurch in his stomach. It was a sudden and terrifying feeling.

Snape rose and paced the length of the garden. He felt galvanized to movement, more energized than he’d been in years. He’d go to Hogwarts. He looked around his half-ruined garden, torn up in his frantic search and heard himself give a rather desperate laugh. Well, that hardly mattered; he didn’t need it anymore. He’d go back to Hogwarts, to teach; he was through with country life. What were a few sniveling brats? He’d train them right for a change. Merlin knew what Minerva had been doing with them; they were probably having inter-House picnics and sensitivity training every Wednesday.

He leaned over and plucked a handful of basil quickly, before he could think about it. Love. He took a breath. The words were unexpectedly right there, waiting for him, and Lupin had to know; he had to say it.

He plucked another handful of basil and placed it carefully in his breast pocket. He could say the words--he wanted to, and he’d make Lupin say the words to him. But--if it was too much--if it was too new, too raw, too freshly true--well, they’d have the bright green leaves.

 

 

End