Make your own free website on Tripod.com

 

A Measure of Equinimity
Why is Professor Snape such an unpleasant person? And does the ‘arch Slytherin’ have any vulnerabilities?  Whatever happened to kindly Professor Lupin? Can the great Professor Dumbledore make any use of Snape’s Slytherin temperament, or must heroic attempts to bring down the terrifying Lord Voldemort rest only with Gryffindor acts of bravery and chivalry? Can Voldemort actually be defeated, or has he found a means to make himself invincible?

All these questions are answered here.  Read on … but at your peril – if you have not read the first four Harry Potter novels, reading this first will spoil them for you !

Irreparably.

And you will also find this story impossible to follow.

You have been warned…

Bookmarks

Introduction & Disclaimer

Part 1 - Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6

Part 2 -  Chapter 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12

Part 3 - Chapter  13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17

 


Introduction

 

Disclaimer

The inspirational basis of this work of fan fiction is the J. K. Rowling Harry Potter stories.  Undisputedly, J. K. Rowling owns those – including their wonderful characters and incidents, and the world of my fan fiction is taken from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels – specifically the first four novels.

I make no money from my fan fiction, nor do I intend to.

Censorship Rating – Restricted Under 17

In accordance with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) criteria I rate this story as restricted under 17 because it contains an explicit description of sexual activity, and other references to sex and adult themes, plus a little bad language.  The descriptions of sexual activity are romantic rather than erotic; however this is NOT a children’s story.

What My Story Covers

This is a Professor Snape fiction and it is a love story.  Although I visualise Snape as portrayed by the actor Alan Rickman, I have tried to base my Snape’s character, reactions and situations upon the information that is given in or could be inferred by J. K. Rowling’s novels.  So wherever there is a mismatch between the books and the films I have tried to remain faithful to the books.

Also, this is largely based on rumours and theories of the time of writing, e.g. that Snape became Dumbledore’s faithful spy within the Death Eaters, and he was once in love with Lily Evans.  Subsequent Rowling novels may well disprove such notions, but this story must stand as it is in its time of creation.  [Please note - in July 2004 I made some amendments in order to make this a little more ‘Book 5 compliant’.  I also moved the Author’s Notes to the end of the novel.  They will explain jargon such as MLE and Operational Base.  Unfortunately I cannot make this story totally Book 5 compliant; my inventions about the Ministry’s Department for Magical Education and the Hogwarts exam procedures must remain intact – ‘wrong’ in the wider sense of Rowling’s world, but necessary to this tale.]

This piece of fan fiction is totally separate from my other stories – Maker of Potions, Dark Angel in the Guardian Host and Professor Snape’s Mystery Guest.  I have therefore changed some characters and their forenames to fit this new scenario.  Snape, also, is very different – he is not the wealthy womaniser of Maker of Potions; he and many of the other characters have totally different histories.

My fic starts in June 1995, the summer of the Triwizard Tournament, but jumps forward immediately to July 1997.  From then it is almost entirely focused on the period from July 1997 to October 1998 when Snape is aged 41 to 42.

Also please note – the other students get little mention in this story; essentially this is not a ‘Harry Potter’ story – it mostly explores how Snape interacts with his colleagues, how he adjusts psychologically to life after Voldemort, and how he discovers love.

Here it is.  I hope you enjoy reading it…

Afictionado
Sussex, England
April 2003;
  Revised July 2004


Part One

Chapter One - Location Bravo

It was the last week of June in 1995, and it was raining.  Mercifully the weather had stayed dry for the Triwizard Tournament Final Task, but almost immediately afterwards the summer storms had begun, as though Voldemort’s rebirth had cursed the countryside of northern Britain.  Severus Snape Apparated in the Northumbrian forest.  Exhausted, he stood motionless, pressing the back of his black robe against the trunk of a beech tree.  He fought to focus his senses.  He knew he could go no further in his present physical state; he hadn’t the resources for any greater magic.  The woodland was mostly deciduous; a fragrant twinkling canopy of soft summer green, pattering and dripping, but Snape barely heard the sound.  He barely felt the raindrops.  His body was a mass of pain.  Pain from Voldemort’s repeated use of the Cruciatus curse.  Pain too from a medley of punishments Voldemort had encouraged the faithful Death Eaters to inflict upon Snape for his tardy return to the Inner Circle.

Agony and humiliation.  Inflicted for punishment and for entertainment.

Once Snape judged he was sufficiently aware of his surroundings he removed his mask, fumbled to put it in a pocket of his robe, and decided on his next move.  He believed he was alone, and if so he was safe.  He knew he was somewhere near the shaft’s entrance but he was too weak to find it.  Yet find it he must, he didn’t have the strength to travel the hundreds of miles to Hogwarts.  The shaft was his lifeline to a refuge he had long ago devised, a refuge he could use when all else failed, where he could store a little food and a key to his return.  As quietly as he could, he groped forward, searching the bracken and ground elder, tripping on brambles, clawing the sticky earth…

color:white'>YES, he sighed, almost soundlessly.  Eight minutes searching had been rewarded.  Legs trembling with fatigue, he lowered himself into the narrow shaft.  Its cover had disappeared long ago – rotted away or lost, but it was narrow enough not to be seen easily.  His feet found the metal hoops that were cemented into the shaft’s brick wall and he began the long climb down, his robe riding up and dragging behind him, threatening to smother him.  Except that it was narrower than a normal industrial chimney, climbing down the shaft was like climbing down the inside of a square factory smoke stack.  It was coated with damp silt and slime; the rusting metal hoops were treacherously slippery.  Snape climbed slowly, terrified of falling, limbs trembling with weariness; trying not to think that he had almost forty feet of this vertical nightmare to negotiate…

One more step.

And one more step.

And one more step.

color:white'>Easy does it, he told himself.  Fancifully he toyed with the idea of transfiguring himself into something that could withstand a fall, a feather perhaps, or a sparrow.  But he knew he didn’t have the energy – not for a transformation, nor for his Animagus transformation.  If he could have managed any serious magic he would simply have Apparated in the Forbidden Forest near to Hogwarts and not bothered with this hideaway.

One more step.

And one more step.

And one –

“Aaaaaaaaagh!”

Hands grimed in mud, dampened rust and filth, he fell the rest of the way and knew he must have cried out.  The bottom of the shaft was a heap of broken bricks and branches, and on this he lay, wondering if his legs were broken, dimly aware of a pain in his back and a sharper pain in his left arm.  Snape wasn’t sure whether he had lost consciousness, but a while later he became aware of his uncomfortable rubble sofa and started to drag himself into the chamber.

The bottom of the shaft connected with a chamber some twenty-five feet long, by eleven feet wide at its widest point and seven feet high at its highest.  Its walls and roof ran together in a continuous curve like a London Underground railway tunnel, and the whole chamber was screened from the entrance shaft by a thick blast wall.  Getting into it proved difficult because the access gap at the side of the blast wall was narrow and the whole place was awash with flood water; the pile of bricks and branches had held him above this – the true bottom of the shaft and the chamber floor were flooded.  Mercifully his legs were not broken.  He waded into the chamber and felt around in the pitch darkness.

Beneath the water, the concrete floor was caked in a stodgy mess of rotting leaf litter, but the rusting single bed was still in place, standing to one side.  Although higher than the flood water, its mattress felt sodden and Snape guessed it must bear a beautiful bloom of mould.  He waded carefully to the food preparation area.  Unseen in the darkness, the brick walls bore the ghostly traces of shelf brackets, the shelves themselves long ago removed, as was the wooden table that would have held the little cooking stove in the days when this lair would have been occupied by members of the World War II British Resistance Movement.  see also author’s notes at end of story

Snape’s immediate goal was to find the narrow tunnel that originally housed the cooker flue.  He was prepared to attempt the Lumos charm and was fumbling in his left sleeve for his wand, a procedure that turned out to be sharply painful and ultimately depressing – his wand was broken, fractured by his fall, part of the jagged wood now piercing his forearm.  He gritted his teeth, wrenched the fragment out of his flesh and stowed the pieces of ebony and dragon heartstring in a rather soggy pocket.  His wizard robe was soaking up water like blotting paper.  Bitterly he resigned himself to working in total darkness.

He felt along the bricks at shoulder height for the small square opening.  Sliding his right arm into the narrow tunnel, he groped for the place where many moons past he had prized out a couple of bricks to make a hiding place.  He found it and his fingertips touched plastic.  Carefully he pulled out a small object wrapped inside bag within bag of black dustbin liner.  Where is the bloody thing, he fumed, as the layers of plastic threatened to defeat him.  He removed each bag, stuffing them into one of the few dry pockets of his sodden robe.  Mustn’t drop it, he gasped, speaking of the small heavy device that lay at the parcel’s core.

Finally he cradled the mobile phone in his hand.  He was glad now that he had not used a spell to secure or hide it, apart from not having the strength to perform magic, he hadn’t reckoned on breaking his wand.  Praying the phone would have enough charge, he held down the on/off key and was rewarded with a beep.  The keypad illuminated.  He waited…  No signal!  Ohrrrr, fuck this, Snape breathed, knowing he was close to panic.

The far end of the chamber connected with a low emergency exit tunnel which lead in turn to an ash pit situated on the slope of a hill.  The ash pit was a disused Muggle spoil heap from some obsolete 19th century industrial process, cunningly chosen to cover the emergency escape route from this Second World War Operational Base that Snape had taken over.  Dipping his head lower and lower, Snape waded to the ash pit and found there was just enough of a signal for his phone.  He felt exposed on the edge of the lair but would have to risk it.  Hands trembling, he pressed out a telephone number and waited for a reply.

“This is Greenslade” a voice said.

“This is Barralty” Snape replied in as firm a voice as he could muster.  “My message.  Reptilian.  Location Bravo.  Message concluded.”

“Reptilian; Location Bravo” the voice confirmed.  “Anything else?”

“Negative.  Message concluded” Snape replied.

“Stay put, Barralty.  Signing off.”  The line went dead.

Switching off the phone to preserve the precious battery, Snape waded back to the chamber, slipping in the narrow central trench that was designed to drain the floor.  Steadying himself against the wall he wrapped the phone in three bin liners and jammed it into the dry pocket that held his Death Eater mask.  As best he could, he spread the remaining bin liners over the mattress so that he could lay down in something approaching dryness.

He thought about his meeting with Voldemort.  Acting upon the instructions of Albus Dumbledore, Snape had re-infiltrated the Death Eaters in order to work against them from within their ranks.  Well, that had been the plan.  In reality it hadn’t been easy to persuade Voldemort of his loyalty.  His intimidation of Quirenius Quirrell some years earlier and his delayed response to Voldemort’s recent summons argued against that loyalty.

Had he convinced Voldemort?

A small part of his mind wanted to analyse the meeting, but the rest of him wanted to block it out – to shut out the horror of his own torture and other events he had been forced to witness.

Had he convinced Voldemort?

How could he know?  How could anyone know?  Only time would tell.  But at least, for now, he was still alive.

Snape was beyond bothering with food now – too tired to rummage for it in the other side of the flue tunnel; too keyed up to eat it.  Cold, wet, and in pain, his arm bleeding, his body filthy and his clothes ruined, he tried to empty his mind of its frantic spiralling thoughts.  He was dimly aware of the rain hammering down in the forest and the water pattering in the shaft.  An occasional drip fell from the curved chamber roof.  Merlin’s beard; I hope I don’t drown down here, he thought.  A bout of shivering took him, and at times he blinked back tears of rage.

Eventually he passed out.

Review

 Author's Note: The Operational Bases described here are based on fact and a small amount of information about them and about the Auxiliary Units who used them can be found by searching the Internet for the British Resistance Movement.

Chapter Two - Excellent for Cursing

Snape could hear voices.  Low and solicitous, the way people talk when there has just been a death in the family.  He opened his eyes.  Gradually they focused and he took in dimmed lamps hanging from a lofty ceiling, the metal foot-rail of a hospital bed, curtains almost totally screening his view.  I’m in St Mungo’s! he thought.  He could hear Dumbledore’s voice, and someone else’s…

“… have worked miracles” Dumbledore was saying.  “Thank you for all you have done.”

“Well it’s been a patching up job really.  All the body surface is either cuts or bruises.  Plus the odd burn.  He must have been put under Cruciatus; probably repeatedly.  We mended two cracked ribs.  Looks as if he’s been thrown against a wall at some point, and maybe dropped from a height.  The right ankle’s swollen, consistent with a fall.  There’s no sign of internal bleeding, fortunately.  We took splinters out of a ragged wound in the left forearm.  Wood – ebony – looks like they came from the wand.  I really do think you ought to leave it a week.  He hasn’t regained consciousness yet…”

“Headmaster” Snape whispered.

There was a swish of robes.  Dumbledore and a Healer came into view.  “Good heavens!” the Healer exclaimed.  He looked shrewdly at Snape and asked him how he was feeling.

“Help me up, man!” Snape insisted, angry that pain in his lungs and his injured arm hindered him from sitting up unaided.  “Thank you.  Now, if you don’t mind, I need to speak to Professor Dumbledore.”  The Healer showed no sign of withdrawing.  Snape’s black eyes glittered; an eyebrow arched.  “In private” he added acidly.

The Healer bridled and backed off.  Dumbledore’s mouth twitched in a smile, but he looked carefully at his Potions Master.  Snape was obviously fighting his way back to fitness but could not have heard all they had said of his condition; he hadn’t heard the Healer’s description of the mental state he had been in when he had arrived at St Mungo’s.  Dumbledore was fairly sure Snape had no memory of trying to attack the Magical Law Enforcement specialists who rescued him from the Operational Base, nor of his ravings at the emergency medical team who had treated him.  On Dumbledore’s orders Snape had been rushed to a private suite.  Only certain carefully vetted staff had attended him; Snape’s presence in the hospital was not for public consumption, nor was knowledge of the objects he was carrying, nor the mark on his left forearm.

“Get me home, Headmaster” Snape insisted, and his baritone voice held a grim determination.

“If you’re sure, Severus.”

“I’m sure.  Get me home.  Aaah – I have no wand!  Err, where’s my phone?”

“Here, I believe” Dumbledore said, reaching into the cabinet beside Snape’s bed.  He took the phone and replaced it with a freshly charged one.  “I’ve also got you this from Stephano’s stores he added, showing Snape a wand, which he also placed in the cabinet.  “It’s ebony with dragon heartstring, but only twelve inches, so be careful.  As a temporary measure it will be better than nothing.  Getting you home will take a day or so.  Meanwhile I need to give you the new passwords.  Are you ready to commit them to memory?”

“I am.”

Dumbledore gave Snape his next codename for emergency contact, the identification he alone must use to whichever Duty MLE Rescue Squad Officer at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement would happen to answer his next call.  He then gave Snape the codeword that meant “I am fit enough to get home unaided”.  Finally he gave him the codeword that meant “For pity’s sake rescue me!”

Snape puzzled at this word.  “Caravanserai?” he asked.

“Yes.  Do not ask me what it means.”

“No.  It is, after all, just a word” Snape said philosophically.  He sighed a long shuddering sigh.  He looked battered and exhausted.  “Just get me home, Headmaster” he whispered again.

Home to Snape meant Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the residential school for wizards where he was Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.  Hogwarts had been home to him since the age of eleven years ten months.  From the tender age of seven home had officially been the Suffolk orphanage where, after the death of his father and his mother’s nervous breakdown, Snape had been brought up, but although it was a wizarding institution and better than the Muggle orphanage at which Voldemort had resided in the days when he was plain Tom Riddle, Snape never thought of his orphanage as home.  In fact he tried not to think of it, or of any part of his childhood, at all.

The following day Snape was moved to the hospital wing at Hogwarts, where Dumbledore insisted he take a few days rest.  He hobbled around at times but spent most of the time in bed, sitting up reading the Daily Prophet and doing the crosswords, dressed in one of his grey nightshirts and a white hospital robe.  Dumbledore visited daily.  As did Filius Flitwick the Charms Professor with whom Snape played chess.

Snape’s most senior Slytherin Prefect, Barry Kellerman, kept him informed of events within the House and assured him that the Potions classroom and storeroom were safely sealed.  It was almost the end of term; exams had taken place before the final Triwizard task and the staff and students were winding down and trying to come to terms with the tragic outcome of the Tournament.  Snape fumed that from a commanding lead throughout much of the year Slytherin was now seventeen points behind Ravenclaw who had the leading number of house points, and that from a hospital bed he could do nothing about it.  However the House Cup would not be awarded this year.  There was no mood of celebration this year.

Snape complained about the hospital wing’s meals, the ventilation, the lighting, and Poppy Pomfrey’s rules about visitors.  The elderly School Matron smiled, Snape was by far her most difficult patient.  “Insufferable prima-donna!  I’ll be so glad to see the back of you, Severus” was all she usually said to him, receiving in return his half-shy wolfish grin.

He was allowed out of bed for the Leaving Feast and Dumbledore watched him glide down the Great Hall to take his place at the top table.  He bore no sign of injury but he looked paler than ever, and he looked older.  Dumbledore knew he could give him no public tribute, Snape had a dangerous and unfinished job at which he had to work alone and unacknowledged.  Dumbledore limited his tributes to Harry Potter and the late Cedric Diggory.  Snape knew he could receive no recognition but he guessed Potter suspected something of the truth.  From the Gryffindor table Potter looked searchingly at Snape and he had not the heart to glare back.  He knew now what the boy had been through.  Potter already looked older, damaged as he himself was by encounters with Voldemort’s evil.  Snape pulled himself out of his sadness and squared his shoulders.  A day or so’s rest and then I have things to do, he said to himself.

Two days later and after some practice with his temporary wand, Snape felt fit enough for his next task.  He dressed in Levi jeans, a navy sweatshirt and trainers, and carried in a plain white carrier bag a change of Muggle clothing, several mobile phones and a length of string.  He cleaned his Wellington boots and stuffed them into the bag as well.  Then he walked a short way into the Forbidden Forest and Disapparated.

Arriving once again in the Northumbrian forest he verified that he was alone.  He located the shaft and, using the string, lowered the now tightly closed carrier bag down into the darkness.  Feeling it touch the bottom, he let the string fall after it.  He transformed into a bat and fluttered down the shaft, he had no intention of repeating his painful fall.  At the base of the shaft he transformed back into human form, lit his wand and put on the Wellingtons.

The weather had been fine for some time and the water from the flash flood had virtually drained away but, conscious of his vulnerable ankle, Snape waded carefully into the chamber, feeling for broken bricks under his feet.  The recharged phones were already wrapped in layers of bin liner and hidden inside his spare clothes.  Opening the carrier bag he dug one out and stowed it once more in the flue tunnel’s wall.  He checked the condition of his tiny food stock which was buried in the other side of the tunnel.  It seemed to be undamaged.  Finally he collected the bin liners from the bed and looked around.  At a superficial glance there was no sign that anyone had been here.  The flash flood had largely obliterated signs of his movements.  A thorough search would reveal the phone and the food but he’d have to chance that.  At least they’re Muggle things, he mused, not the dead giveaway wizard items would be.  He smiled –‘dead’ giveaway, how curiously apt, he reasoned.

It was time to go.  Walking carefully backwards, he did his best to obliterate his footmarks.

Even with one phone removed the carrier bag was full to bursting once it had Wellingtons and the spare bin liners stuffed into it, but he managed to bundle it closed.  Wingardium Leviosa raised it to the top of the shaft and Snape once again made use of his Animagus transformation to travel to ground level.  Now for the next OB, he decided.

The Operational Bases (which are known within the British military establishment as OBs) had been set up hurriedly, starting in the July of 1940 as a result of the fall of France and the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in the Second World War.  Conscious of an imminent German invasion, Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted Britain to have a ready-trained and equipped resistance force – the Auxiliary Units – to harass an invading army by attacking their communications, field headquarters and supply lines.  These Auxiliary Units would work from structures called Operational Bases.  For strategic reasons, the OBs were clustered thickly in the south and east of Britain, but there was a sprinkling of others further north and west.  They were extremely secret, as was the very existence of the wartime Auxiliary Units.  see also author’s notes

Since 1976 and with help from a clandestine team of colleagues loyal to Dumbledore within the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Snape had taken over several of these long forgotten Muggle chambers scattered across the country.  From now on Voldemort may choose to operate mostly in the north, but he could require his Death Eaters to Apparate to him anywhere, even abroad.  Snape had decided it was wise to maintain a fair spread of bolt holes in which to hide away and recover from Voldemort’s attentions.

The following day Snape Apparated in Diagon Alley, went to Gringotts Bank for some cash and then browsed the shops, leaving orders at several of them for potion ingredients to be delivered to the school and invoiced to ‘Hogwarts’.  He then headed for Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions because he needed at the very least one new summer-weight robe.  Better stock up while I’m there, he thought.  He was thankful to find the shop empty except for two young assistants, a witch and a wizard.  With the help of the male assistant he chose four new black robes, two at summer-weight and two in their heaviest winter-weight wool.

“I should like you to deliver these to Hogwarts please” Snape said in his world-weary drawl as he adjusted his own outer robe and sorted out a pocketful of gold to pay for the new ones.

“Of course, sir” the assistant was saying, parcelling up his purchases, but Snape suddenly stopped in his tracks.

Clearly his mind had been elsewhere.  He pocketed the excess change and placed a neat stack of gold coins on the counter.  “I need a green robe too” he murmured.  “Damn, I’d forgotten that.”  He looked around and the assistant went over to a rail of green robes, pulling out three that were Snape’s size.  “No, no!” Snape barked fiercely, his eyes flaring with anger.  “Loden hunting green!  Slytherin green, to be exact!  Do you really expect the Head of Slytherin to appear at a Quidditch final in almond green?  Or olive?  Or emerald?”

“Ah, Slytherin.  I’m afraid we don’t have–”

“Don’t HAVE?” Snape roared.  “Don’t have my HOUSE colour?”

“Not in your size, sir” the young man explained.  “Not at the moment.  We can order it.  It will take three weeks.  If you would like to pay for it now, you will secure it at the current price.  We will of course deliver it.  If it comes in at a lower price we wi–”

“Most certainly you will deliver it” Snape cut in, in a voice of deadly softness.  “And I will not be settling in advance for–”

“Is anything wrong, sir?” a cool voice asked from behind him.  Madam Malkin had appeared.  She was an elderly witch with long grey hair that fell gracefully to just below her shoulders.  Her robes and hat were purple, and her expression implacable.

“We don’t have the gentleman’s size, Marm” the assistant began.

“So I hear” she replied graciously.  “We can order your robe, Professor.  You may pay now or on delivery.  If you choose to pay on delivery you will be charged the price ruling at the time.  Prices are rising and we do not guarantee to hold to the current–”

“I will not pay now” Snape cut in haughtily, “and I will not pay more.  You will deliver my robe and charge me at today’s prices.”

“I do not do business on those terms” Madam Malkin continued smoothly.  “You know very well what my normal terms of business are.  The choice is yours.  If the next consignment happens to come in at a lower price we will refund you the difference, as my assistant was about to explain–”

“I will not be spoken to in this ma–”

“BEFORE you so rudely interrupted him!”  Madam Malkin’s cool yellow eyes were as unblinking as a hawk.  Normally a kindly witch, she had a stare as deadly as Snape’s when it suited her.

Snape fumed, unsure of what to do.  He wanted to snarl DON’T BOTHER THEN but his black robes had been packaged and technically he had paid.  He didn’t want to go elsewhere, Madam Malkin always provided a fair deal, he would probably end up paying more for inferior quality cloth.  He couldn’t quite understand how he’d got himself into this mess – he didn’t normally descend to brawling with shopkeepers.

“You may of course have your money back” Madam Malkin continued smoothly.  “I would not want you to feel pressured into a purchase you did not intend.  Adrian, pass the Professor his pile of–”

“No.  There is no problem” Snape snapped, angry that she seemed to be able to read his mind.  “I will keep the black robes; deliver them as you intended.”

“As you wish, Professor.  And the green?”

color:white'>You bitch, he thought viciously, his eyes narrowing.  “I will order one green robe” he said coldly.

Grave faced, Madam Malkin inclined her head in a small bow.  “Have you got that, Adrian?  Ah yes, I see you have the details.  Invoice to Professor Severus Snape, HogwartsSchool of – yes that’s right.  Thank you, Professor.  Good day to you.”

Looking rather scared, the female assistant opened the door for him and Snape left in an angry swirl of black fustian.

He strode down Diagon Alley but had to slow down because his ankle pained him.  Although there was an occasional breeze, the summer sun was hot on his black robes.  His head felt, most unaccountably, like a seething cauldron.  Ollivander’s, he decided.  Hector Ollivander will bring some peace into my life.  And some coolness.  Snape loved Ollivander’s.  Madam Malkin’s was quite a pleasant shop, Flourish and Blotts was a good deal better, but Ollivander’s was the best.  It had the smell of old dust and must.  The bell gave a discrete jangle as he entered.  Thank the gods – no students, he observed.  Too early in the summer, fortunately.

The shop however was not empty.  A witch was stocking the shelves, using a charm to lift boxes high and into place.  She had blonde hair that looked as if it had been permed, and she wore a sapphire blue robe.  Snape assumed her eyes would be blue and that the robe would be chosen to enhance them.  Gold drop-shaped earrings dangled from her ears.

She did not look up as Snape entered because Mr Ollivander appeared immediately.  “Good morning, Severus” he said cordially.  “How can I help you?”  Snape laid his fragments of wand on the counter.  “Oh dear!” Hector Ollivander exclaimed softly.  “I think that says it all.”  His pale silver eyes noted patches of colour on Snape’s normally sallow cheeks and he was aware of the Professor’s slight breathlessness.  “Do take a seat, Severus” he said.  “Now, ebony and dragon heartstring isn’t it.  Thirteen and a half inches.  Inflexible.”  Excellent for cursing, he added under his breath.

“You have a remarkable memory, Hector” Snape observed, unaware of Ollivander’s wry aside.  “Yes, Hungarian Horntail actually.”

“Hmm, this will take a moment or two” Ollivander said.  “Erm, I usually have a cup of chamomile tea at about this time.  Would you care to join me?”

“Oh. … Thank you. … Yes” Snape replied, sounding as surprised as he felt but nevertheless taking the seat by the counter.

Mr Ollivander smiled and shuffled over to the witch who was now eyeing him strangely.  color:white'>Elizabeth, can you make us some chamomile tea please?” he asked quietly.  He returned her look of puzzlement with an emphatic stare.

“Of course, Father” she replied, and disappeared quickly to the back of the shop.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter, Hector” Snape drawled, as he sat watching Ollivander climb about the shelves.  Ye gods he is slow, he observed.  Hope he doesn’t fall off that ladder.  He must be far older than Dumbledore.

“Elizabeth is my daughter-in-law” the wand-maker explained as he tottered back to the counter, carrying a long black box.  “She was married to my late son Marcellus.  My youngest son.”

“Ah, I see” Snape said sadly.  He wished he hadn’t mentioned it now.  He had only been making polite conversation.  Marcellus Ollivander had been an Auror.  He had been killed by Yevgenie Dolohov, younger brother of Antonin Dolohov the notorious torturer and Death Eater.  Even after all this time the memory would undoubtedly be painful.

However Ollivander seemed to pay no heed to the matter.  He had opened the wand box and laid it on the counter.  “Here we are.  Try it” he said.

The witch was returning with a tray bearing three steaming beakers.  She paused in the doorway as Snape put out his hand because she knew anything could happen when a wizard touched a new wand.  Using his fingertips, Snape lifted the sliver of ebony delicately and then curled his long fingers around the handle.  A shiver of power rippled through the whole shop, dimming the oil lamps momentarily and wafting their hair as in a breeze.  “Piscaeus!” Snape cried, flicking his wrist, and the air was filled with meandering silver-blue fish that weaved about for a second before vanishing with tiny bursts of silver dust.  They all smiled; the wand was ideal.

“Your tea, Professor.”  Her voice was low and musical, and Snape looked into a pair of warm grey eyes.  They looked out from an attractive, indeed a mature but arrestingly pretty face he believed he recognised.  He replaced the wand in its box and, with a murmured thank you, took a beaker and sat down.  She smiled.  “Father?” she said, turning and offering the tray to Ollivander.

“Thank you my dear” he said gently.  They exchanged a smile as he took his beaker.  The witch took her tea away on the tray.  She intended to work as she drank.

Snape had a pleasant chat to Ollivander, paid for his wand and left the wand-maker’s just after midday.  Lunchtime, he mused.  Ah yes, The Leaky Cauldron.

He drank a flagon of mead and munched his way through a cold meat platter.  He thought about Elizabeth Ollivander; her quiet demeanour and her sad face.  I know that face, he decided.  She must have been at Hogwarts.  Not a Slytherin.  Can’t place her as a Gryffindor.  Possibly a Ravenclaw.  Possibly a Hufflepuff.  How old would she be?  Mid thirties?  Elizabeth cElizabeth what?  Elizabeth who?

He thought again of her blonde hair.  It was roughly parted a little off-centre and hung in soft waves like springs that had been stretched out almost straight.  At the front it didn’t quite reach her shoulders but the back was a little longer as if it was cut to a point.  It gave her a shaggy dog look.  Her mouth was a shapely pink Cupid’s bow.  Her body under the blue robes was a total mystery, but she moved gracefully and seemed slim.  Mmm, yes an attractive witch, he decided.  Hello, what’s this?

He watched a young thin witch with waist length jet black hair slide into a seat.  A row of tiny diamond studs glittered around one ear.  A skinny-rib black T-shirt was pulled tight across high little breasts.  Her silk, leopard-skin patterned skirt was so short it was virtually a pelmet.  Bloody hell, Snape thought.  His glance darted under the table but the tops of her legs were out of view.  He grinned sourly.

“Ah, Donnatella, there you are.”  A young wizard Snape believed he vaguely recognised as an ex-Hogwarts student, joined the witch, putting down a flagon of mead and a white wine with soda.

color:white'>Lucky bastard, Snape mumbled to himself, as he lowered his eyes to his plate.  He thought again of Elizabeth, idly wondering if her ears were pierced or if she used a charm to suspend the earrings.

In the afternoon Snape visited Gladrags Wizardwear to top up his stock of shirts and underwear.  He then looked in at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and returned the temporary wand.  His final errand was to Bole’s Books – Literature for the Discerning Wizard, in Knockturn Alley where he stocked up with ‘bedtime reading material’.  Johannes Bole kept a fine selection of erotic literature.  Browsing in Muggle London, Snape had once bought a Muggle pornographic magazine, forgetting that the people in the pictures would be static; it was a mistake he was determined not to repeat.  Clutching his purchases in two carrier bags, he Disapparated and returned via the Forest to Hogwarts.

He spent the next few days quietly at school, mostly in his dungeon quarters.

* * *

July was slipping by.  Snape was sitting in the staff room on a fine summer’s morning.  It was hot and he had opened the windows as wide as they could go.  He turned his attention to the Daily Prophet’s crossword.  And then he felt the beginnings of a burning sensation on the inside of his left forearm.  By lunchtime it was worse and he spoke to Dumbledore.  Both wizards regarded each other gravely.  Snape found it hard to read the Headmaster’s expression – forlorn hopelessness, anger, and grim resolve seemed to be mixed together.  Snape’s own eyes held a look of suppressed terror and his face was paler than usual.  At length he flinched.  “I must go now, Headmaster” he murmured.

“Yes, Severus.  Good luck.”  Dumbledore nodded sadly, knowing the nightmare was beginning again.

Review

Author's Note: MLE is my abbreviation for Magical Law Enforcement.  Located on Level 2 of the Ministry of Magic, it is the Department whose functions embrace the Improper Use of Magic Office, the Auror Headquarters, the Magical Law Enforcement Squads and Hit-Wizards, and the Wizengamot Administration Services.

Chapter Three - A Most Irksome Wizard

London was hot in the July of 1997 and the staff of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardly wore summer robes as they assembled in the quaintly named ‘Throne Room’ at the Ministry of Magic.  Despite the heat Snape, as ever, wore black.  He stood in grave silence and applauded dutifully as he watched colleagues including Nymphadora Tonks, Kingsley Shaklebolt and Remus Lupin, walk forward in their turn to receive bronze and silver Orders of Merlin.  To tumultuous applause and the flashing of many press cameras, Harry Potter also received a silver medal – a second class Order of Merlin – unprecedented for a boy not yet turned seventeen years of age.  But then, Snape reflected, Potter had taken a key rôle in subduing Voldemort, enabling Snape to make the final capture.  Potter was remarkable!

Snape was last to be called.  Underneath his immaculate robes his body was a mass of scars and his sallow face was grave as he walked forward, dimly aware of the Minister, Marius Findlayter, saying something about ‘outstanding courage’.  “Thank you, Minister” he murmured in his most oily tone, as the gold medal, on its green and purple ribbon was pinned carefully to the left breast of his robe.  He shook the Minister’s hand as he pocked the medal’s little leather box and turned proudly for his own photo call.  He had longed for this moment.  Now it seemed oddly unreal, Dumbledore applauding, Potter applauding, Moody and Lupin too; everyone smiling at him.  A strange sight, the like of which he had never seen before.

The award ceremony was followed by a champagne buffet in the State Reception Room.  Seeking out the more important people to chat to, Snape ate little and sipped his champagne slowly.  It was a drink he disliked.  If he craved alcohol, red wine or a spirit – notably whiskey, cognac or armagnac – would be his choice.  He enjoyed posing for the photographs and looked forward to seeing them in the newspapers and magazines, but aside from that and chatting to the Minister he was not unhappy for the reception to be over.  His innate shyness and carefully hidden lack of self esteem always undermined his craving for celebrity.  What gratified him most was the knowledge that Voldemort, once briefly his hero but very quickly his despair, was conquered – a soulless shell in Azkaban who could never rise again.  Snape’s arm, now clear of the Dark Mark, would never again burn with the terrifying summons.

Dumbledore was also glad to return to Hogwarts.  He was worried about McGonagall who had been ill during the past few weeks.  Now that he thought about it, she had not been really well for some months.  And she would soon have the letters to organise for the new and returning students.  Time to engage an Admin Assistant, Dumbledore decided.

At the beginning of August they advertised for an assistant, but without success.  “I wonder why no one wants this job” Dumbledore asked McGonagall.

“Probably everyone’s away on holiday” she reasoned.  “But perhaps the meagre hours are putting people off, it’s only a part time job after all.  Don’t worry, I’ll manage.”

Dumbledore remembered how she had ‘managed’ last year, her office becoming more and more littered with suppliers’ invoices, drafts of timetables, correspondence awaiting answers and many redrafts of her Transfiguration examination papers.  She had temporarily mislaid the proposed Arithmancy O.W.L., which meant that she and Nocawe Vector had had a row, and they were late getting clearance of all their O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. draft examination papers from the Department for Magical Education.  No, he insisted to himself, we’re not going through that again!  He arranged for the advertisement to appear a second time.

*

Awakening on Saturday two weeks into the first term, Dumbledore looked searchingly at McGonagall’s wan face on the pillow next to his.  It was not common knowledge that the Headmaster and Deputy Head slept together.  So that they could be found in an emergency the other House Heads knew, but McGonagall wanted it to go no further.  Dumbledore often wondered why she wouldn’t marry him, ‘living in sin’ seemed to be curiously at odds with her straight-laced style.  She looks old for a middle aged witch, he decided.  Seventy-seven and already there’s the odd streak of grey in this beautiful long black hair.  I didn’t start going grey until I was well over a hundred.  I must get Minerva to lighten her load.

As he showered, Dumbledore though about Snape.  There’s another one old before his time, he mused.  Although in Severus’s case it’s understandable.  Closing in on forty-two and there are days when he looks more like eighty.  No grey hair though.  But nowhere near as sharp as he was!  Positively forgetful at times.  Losing his grip?

Dumbledore remembered that Harry Potter had once jokingly told him “Professor Snape would take house points from non-Slytherins for ‘writing loudly’, or ‘looking happy’, or ‘thinking in the wrong shade of pink’”.  The Headmaster trimmed his beard and smiled at Potter’s wry turn of phrase.  Potter had come to terms with Snape’s resentment of him, particularly once Dumbledore had explained how the teenage Snape had fallen desperately in love with Lily Evans, and how Harry Potter was living proof of Lily’s love for the fellow pupil of whom Snape had been most jealous – James Potter – and how Snape beheld Lily’s eyes every time he looked at Harry.

Yet there was a deeper truth in Potter’s words that perhaps the young wizard hadn’t intended.  Snape was more biased than ever these days, and uncharacteristically erratic.  Last year’s house point totals were a bad joke; skewed crazily toward Slytherin during most of the year because of Snape’s unwarranted awards to his own House and ludicrous deductions from the other three.  That couldn’t be allowed to happen again.

But Dumbledore was not sure what to do.  Of the Hogwarts staff he alone fully appreciated the perilous and lonely game Snape had played since he had turned spy against Voldemort.  He had seen some of Snape’s physical scars and could make good guesses about the mental ones.  He had spoken to Healers at St Mungo’s and read the psychological profiles.  He had also seen Snape bounce back into action time after time, determined to make full use of his unique position as a one-time Death Eater; determined to atone – to his own personal satisfaction – for past wrongdoing.

“So what do you do?” he asked aloud to his reflection as he adjusted his saffron robes.  “Do you warn Severus and maybe end up having to discipline him; a hero who has just received a first class Order of Merlin?  Do you let him get away with bad behaviour like a spoilt child?  Do you let him crack up before your eyes?  Do you alert St Mungo’s, and maybe lose control of the situation?”

“No, surely not the last.  Never give up control” the mirror replied.

“Then I’ll get Minerva’s workload sorted out.  I can’t fight on too many fronts” the Headmaster said.

“A wise move” the mirror replied.  “Then you’ll have scope for the next decision.”

“What decision?” McGonagall asked as she appeared in the shower room doorway.

Dumbledore decided not to voice his concerns about Snape.  “You are having a full-time Admin Officer” he said firmly.  “Either that, or we both retire!”

After breakfast he began to draft a new advertisement.

*

“Headmaster!”  (Dumbledore was always faintly amused when McGonagall addressed him in that manner.  She liked to maintain a sharp distinction between their working lives and their intimacy.)  “Headmaster” she repeated.  Grave faced, she came into his office brandishing a piece of parchment.  “Hector Ollivander … he’s dead” she said sadly.

Dumbledore was surprised.  “Good lord!”  He sat back in his chair.  “Well, he was, um, a hundred-and-eighty perhaps?  Even so, it is a shock.”  They sat in silence for a few minutes as Dumbledore read and re-read the short letter from Ollivander’s eldest son Justinian.  “I assume the boys will take over the business” Dumbledore mused.  “I do hope so.  Diagon Alley would indeed be strange without an Ollivander’s.”

“He’s got two surviving sons hasn’t he?” McGonagall asked.

“Yes, Justinian and Gaius” Dumbledore replied.  “Marcellus was the third, much younger son who was killed.  His widow Elizabeth works in the wand shop.”  The Headmaster looked thoughtful.  “I wonder what she will do now.  She doesn’t get on well with her brothers-in-law.  I wonder…  She would make a good Admin Officer, Minerva” he concluded firmly.

“What?  For us?  Would she?  What’s she like?”

“You know her” Dumbledore insisted.  “Elizabeth Graham.  She was here in the early seventies.  In Hufflepuff.  It’ll be in the records.”

McGonagall was thinking, and she didn’t look happy.  “She wasn’t by any chance that dratted child Dizzy Lizzy was she?”

“Mmmmm?  Yes, she might have been” Dumbledore said in an off-hand tone, his eyes twinkling.

“What are you thinking of?” McGonagall snapped.  “That girl was the class clown!  She was always fooling around.  She and the Miller girl, and that Matravers…”

“Elizabeth is different now, Minerva” the Headmaster said calmly.  He sighed.  “Let me explain.  If you remember Marcellus Ollivander was tortured and murdered by Yevgenie Dolohov, younger brother of Antonin Dolohov.”  He paused momentarily and then continued.  “On hearing the news, Elizabeth collapsed.  She was several months pregnant.  She miscarried.  She’s not the… ‘class clown’… any more.  If she’s interested in the job I think you should see her.”

Something about his piercing gaze convinced McGonagall that she should at least make an approach to Elizabeth Graham.

Dumbledore owled the Department for Magical Education and three days later he lunched with the Departmental Head.  He wanted to pull a few strings.  On Saturday 20th September he called a staff meeting and explained that he wanted to re-advertise the Administration Assistant job as a full-time Administration Officer.

“How are we going to afford this, Headmaster?” Snape asked irritably.

“Our budget has been increased to cover it” Dumbledore explained.  “I have cleared this with the Ministry.  They are prepared to meet the additional salary.”

On receiving his full assurance about this, no one objected to the uprating of the Administrative job, if McGonagall got more help it was likely to make all their lives easier.

*

It was almost a fortnight later when Snape sat at the breakfast table with his head resting in his left hand and his fingers clawing his greasy hair.  The other hand was listlessly forking through a plate of kedgeree.  He felt troubled and far from hungry, he couldn’t face his customary bacon and eggs today.

He felt at a loss, and now realised this feeling had come upon him quite soon after Voldemort’s downfall.  At first he had been euphoric; now he was unsettled, anxious and drained.  Voldemort had featured in his life since before he had left school, he had secretly joined the Death Eaters in his last year at Hogwarts.  Why do I feel so… so… weird, Snape wondered in alarm.  Albus seems to take this all quite calmly, but then Albus had seen several evil wizards come and go – Grindelwald, Voldemort.  Maybe I’ll achieve some measure of equanimity in time to come.  Maybe.  How long do I have to wait?  He continued to fork his food absentmindedly.

“Severus, do you remember Elizabeth Graham?”  McGonagall’s voice made no impression on him and she had to repeat her question.  He raised his head, sliding his fingers out of his hair and down his face.  McGonagall’s voice sounded far away.  “She was a few years younger than you.  Started in sixty-nine when you were embarking on your third year.”

Snape pulled himself together.  “I’m sure an eleven year old girl wouldn’t have caught my eye, Minerva” he replied coolly.  “I might have been a bit short of female company at times, but I didn’t stoop to cradle snatching, thank you very much.”

“No, I’m sure you didn’t” McGonagall retorted.  “However when you were in your final year she would have been oooooh fifteen… sixteen…?  She was a Hufflepuff.  What if I say the name Dizzy Lizzy?”

Snape started.  “Oh yes, I remember Dizzy Lizzy” he leered.  “Flighty little bi–”  He stopped short.  He did remember Dizzy Lizzy, a pretty blonde witch, good at charms and a fair hand at hexes.  Quite sporty; Chaser for her House Quidditch team.  Not the most intellectual girl, but popular.  A bit of a trouble maker in a jokey, none-too-serious way.  Sought-after by the boys but able to fend them off.  That’s the face I saw at Ollivander’s he realised.  Two years ago!  Hmm.  She’s changed since our school days.  Did she recognise me?  Well, it hardly matters.

“I’m seeing her tomorrow” McGonagall was saying.  “I’m thinking of offering her the Admin Officer job.”

Snape pushed his plate away, his face rigid and his thoughts in private turmoil.  “Is that wise?” was all he could think of to say in the most sarcastic tone he could muster.

“The Headmaster thinks she’ll be ideal.”

McGonagall’s words resounded in his head.  “Hmh, as you wish” he said shortly.  “I must go and prepare for my first class.”  He left the table and walked slowly out of the Great Hall.

color:white'>Yes, I remember Elizabeth Graham, Snape thought savagely, his mind racing back to the autumn of 1972.  He had been in love with Lily Evans but he had wanted to experience Dizzy Lizzy.  Pretty, perky Dizzy Lizzy was the sexy challenge all the boys fantasised about.  Everyone tried to bed her, but no one succeeded.  Snape hadn’t been totally honest with McGonagall.  A week before his seventeenth birthday he had cornered Lizzy one dark evening and had almost put her under the Imperious Curse.  Almost.  He chickened out, fortunately; he didn’t have the nerve.  She was underage and so was he, and to use the curse would have been a criminal act, let alone what he intended to do once he had her in his power.

Would she remember?  Well, it can hardly matter now, can it, he wondered.  My slate is wiped clean of far worse things than pitiable schoolboy lust.  She can only look at me and laugh at what a pathetic fool I was.  If she even remembers me.  I didn’t quite remember her in Ollivander’s, so she’s unlikely to remember me, in view of the many wizards that used to flock around her.

He closed his classroom door, opened his notes and started to list the next potion’s ingredients on the blackboard.

***

Graham looked up in wonder as the castle came into view.  It was twenty-two years since she had been to Hogwarts.  She left the school in 1976 and had never been back.  The castle still seemed majestic, she was pleased to find that her own maturity had not robbed it of its magic.  The carriage drew up at the Main Entrance and Hagrid stepped forward to greet her.  Graham remembered him as the Gamekeeper and Keeper of Keys.  She was impressed to learn he now taught Care of Magical Creatures.  The school exuded an orderly quietness as they walked along the corridors to McGonagall’s top floor office that nestled next to Dumbledore’s tower.  Hagrid knocked and McGonagall opened the door.

“Thank you, Rubeus.  Come in Miss Graham” she said.

Graham also thanked Hagrid for escorting her to McGonagall’s office and helping her to negotiate the tricky staircases.  She then turned to the Deputy Headmistress.  “Professor McGonagall” she said warmly, extending her hand.  “Good morning.  It’s lovely to be back.”

Over the next three quarters of an hour the interview unfolded.  Initially McGonagall outlined the Administration Officer tasks and went into more detail about the proposed pay and conditions.  She then asked Graham about her work experience.

“You trained as a fitness coach” she remarked, studying Graham’s application form.  “Then you got married.  Did you ever think about going back to that sort of work?  To your original career plans?”

“Not at the time” Graham explained.  “I was devastated, and ill for some months when Marcellus was killed.  There were medical complications after my miscarriage.  It did bring me very low, and I lost my confidence.  Then some while after that, Hector asked me to help in the shop.  He got me doing simple things – stocking shelves and opening the post.  Eventually I did more and more – took over all the clerical duties, paid the bills and kept the accounts.  I got used to dealing with the bank, and began to invest surplus funds to make more profit.  Within a couple of years I turned from being a hopeless case who couldn’t cope with anything, to being able to challenge suppliers about goods that were faulty or short-delivered.  I got used to the figure work too, and sorting out the best interest rates, doing calculations in vulgar fractions and decimal fractions.  It surprised me how much I got to like it.  I think it was because Hector never pushed me beyond my limit.  Maybe he never expected much of me, but in terms of the business, I took on things he didn’t want to bother to develop.  That period of illness was all along time ago; seventeen or so years ago.  I’m well over it now.  But I do know what it’s like to feel the helplessness and torpor of depression.  You asked me why I didn’t take up my career.  Now you know, I simply couldn’t at the time.  Then I got drawn into working in the shop…  In recent times Hector was getting too frail for me to leave him, not that it occurred to me to do so.  He wouldn’t have wanted to train anyone else, and his sons weren’t interested in helping him.  I like fitness training, but I like clerical work too.  I also like to be creative.  One thing that attracts me about this job is that it seems to have quite a bit of variety.”

“It does indeed” McGonagall agreed.  She had been studying the ex-pupil hard but could see little trace of the wayward Dizzy Lizzy who had so often earned a detention, and finding no fault with the candidate she went on to explain the job in more detail.

The Administration Officer tasks were varied; opening the post, dealing with correspondence to students’ families and to the Department for Magical Education, maintaining the Head’s and Deputy Head’s appointments diaries, arranging for suppliers’ invoices to be paid.  All the professors chose to control their own stocks of equipment and stationery, asking the suppliers to invoice the school, so there was little in the way of central stores for Graham to worry about.  There was however, attendance at staff meetings.

“Will I have to take minutes at the staff meetings?” Graham asked.  “I have never learned speedwriting, but I could charm a quill, something like the Quick-Quotes Quills press reporters use.”

“You needn’t worry about taking formal minutes” McGonagall replied.  “Just make a note of any action points and take the lead in chasing people up to carry them out.  You’ll find some are very good at carrying out what they’re given to do, or what they’ve promised to do – Amarila Sprout for example and Nocawe Vector, and Rubeus Hagrid.  Some others need watching – Pendleton Rookwood is a case in point, and Rea Sinistra can be a law unto herself.  Severus Snape…”  McGonagall paused, remembering Snape’s reaction to her announcement that Ginny Weasley had been taken into the Chamber of Secrets.  She remembered how he masked his horror and his sadness by gripping the top of a chair and asking her a question.  She could still see his knuckles, bone-white on the chair’s wooden-framed leather back.  She remembered, too, the many times he had sneered at her when Slytherin won the House Cup or the Quidditch Cup.  Severus Snape was a paradox.

“Severus Snape” she continued, “Is always an unknown quantity, at times utterly reliable, at other times infuriatingly unhelpful.  Always remarkably stubborn!”

“I know that name” Graham replied.  “He was here, at school, two or three years above me.  He came into the shop a few years ago to buy a new wand.  I remembered him when I saw the articles in Witch Weekly last year; the conqueror of He Who Must Not Be Named.”

“Yes, he’s certainly a celebrity” McGonagall agreed acidly.  “He can also be a most irksome wizard to deal with.  So be warned!  Now, what else can I tell you?  You know the pay, the tasks…”

“Err, where will I actually work?” Graham asked.

“You are having a ‘slice’ of my room; this room” McGonagall explained.  “It’s to be partitioned off.  I’m afraid your office will be very small and there won’t be a fireplace – well not to begin with, we’ll see how it goes.  It will mean you are close to Albus and myself, and you will have the owl platform.”  She indicated a window built into the roof.  It was actually and access hatch, outside of which was a landing platform large enough to take two to three owls.  “Our post is usually delivered here” McGonagall explained.  “The Ministry owls always use this platform, and so do Gringotts.  Occasionally a parent’s owl may try to find us in the Great Hall, but you’ll find most arrive here.”

They chatted on and eventually Graham asked about holidays.

“We are offering five weeks paid holiday” McGonagall stated.  “By that I mean twenty-five 8-hour days per academic year.  Of those five weeks, one is to be taken between Christmas and New Year, and one is to be taken either side of the Easter weekend.  The remainder can be taken at any time, but with my permission.  My only consideration will be work constraints.  We do have busy times; late July when the students’ letters go out, and February / March when the draft exam papers have to be approved...”

Long before the interview was drawing to a close McGonagall had decided that she liked Graham and could work with her.  There were no other applicants but it didn’t matter.  Sporadic flashes of Graham’s perky, jokey personality were sometimes evident, but the sad events of this witch’s early womanhood together with her evident maturity, had moderated her frivolousness.  Occasional fast, clipped words and phrases highlighted Graham’s London origins, but nevertheless she was a well-spoken witch, and more intelligent than McGonagall remembered.  The Deputy Headmistress decided to take what Graham said of her experience and abilities on trust, and she made an immediate verbal offer of the job.  Graham accepted and they discussed a starting date.

Later that afternoon, when Dumbledore heard McGonagall’s summary of the interview he beamed and said “I think you’ll find her ideal for the things you detest.  Particularly the finance matters.  You can then give her as much or as little of the curriculum work as you please.”

McGonagall was totally satisfied.  She confirmed the job offer in writing by owl that evening.

Review

Chapter Four - Indian or Chamomile

A thick white fog obliterated the countryside on Monday 27th October, but nevertheless Elizabeth Ollivander neé Graham still found her way to Hogwarts to start her new job.  The students were summoned to dinner ‘promptly for 7:30’ and as they began to file in McGonagall walked with Graham along the top table, introducing her to the staff one by one.

The thin, vulture-like Librarian Irma Pince was first to be introduced.  Then came Marie-Louise Hooch, with whom a couple of sentences were exchanged about Quidditch.  Around the corner from Hooch sat Pendleton Rookwood the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor.  He rose from his seat and shook Graham’s hand warmly, holding it a little longer than was necessary.  Unable to see his face, Snape guessed Rookwood was giving Graham the benefit of a melting look from his brown, faithful-dog eyes.  The very notion brought a sneer to Snape’s pale face, he didn’t trust Rookwood an inch.  Next to Rookwood sat the exotic Persian Astronomy Professor, Rea Sinistra.  Much as Pince had done, Sinistra said a quiet “Good Evening” and added nothing more; outside the classroom she was a witch of few words.

Not to be outdone by Rookwood, Snape stood up politely to greet Graham.  He extended his hand to hers and raised his eyes a little hesitantly to look her in the face.  He was relieved to see that the friendly but restrained expression in her grey eyes reinforced her modest smile.  “I take it, that new wand was satisfactory, Professor” she remarked.  “You seem to have done some very great things with it since I last saw you.”

“Err, yes it is excellent, thank you, Mrs Ollivander.” Snape was quite touched by the reference to his capture of Voldemort, and felt uncharacteristically wrong-footed by her immediate friendliness.  “By the way” he continued, “please, call me Severus.”  Damn, that sounded much too friendly, he said to himself, cursing his foolishness.  You idiot, you were going to play it very cool till you had judged how she is going to play this!  Will she remember our schooldays?  Will she choose diplomatically to forget?  She is still very, very beautiful.  Ye gods, I’m blushing!  Oh please, please don’t let anyone notice.

He suddenly realised Graham was saying something else to him.  “…reverting to the name Graham.  But please, call me Elizabeth.  Or Liz, or even Lizzy will do.  I really don’t mind.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth” Snape replied coldly.  His mind a tumult of thoughts and fears, he could think of nothing else to say and found McGonagall was moving her on.

McGonagall’s empty chair was next, and beyond was Dumbledore.  Graham said a friendly good evening to Dumbledore whom it was obvious she already knew.  Then came Amarila Sprout, her old House Mistress, who remarked how nice it was to see her again and joked about all the detentions Graham had earned as a student.  Filius Flitwick was also overjoyed to see her, Graham’s ability to perform charms had always delighted him.  “Do call me Filly – all the staff do” he squeaked.

Beyond the tiny Charms Professor were two exceptionally tall teachers.  Nocawe Vector was a regal, black, African witch who taught Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.  She and Flitwick also covered Muggle Studies between them.  Next to Vector, the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid completed the top table’s longer edge.  “Welcom’ to Ogworts” Nocawe said, betraying a French accent.  The two witches shook hands.  A few seconds later Snape heard Graham say “Ah, hello again, Rubeus” and concluded she had already met Hagrid.  He wasn’t surprised – Hagrid, teacher, part-time gamekeeper and keeper of keys, was almost always to be seen in the grounds.

“And this will be your place, Elizabeth” Snape heard McGonagall say as she manoeuvred Graham around the top table’s corner.  “And this empty chair belongs to Argus Filch, the caretaker…”

The Hall had filled with students and the enchanted ceiling had turned from gull grey to an even and solid teal blue.  Everyone was waiting for dinner to begin.  McGonagall called for silence and Dumbledore got to his feet.

“Good evening to you all” he boomed.  “Before we begin dinner I should like to introduce to you, Miss Elizabeth Graham, who has joined the staff as the school’s Administration Officer.  Would you please give Miss Graham a rousing Hogwarts welcome.”

There was polite applause and Graham stood up to take a modest bow.  Finally the Headmaster announced the start of the meal, the food appeared and everyone tucked in enthusiastically.

During dinner Snape stole a glance or two in Graham’s direction.  He suspected Rookwood did the same.  Graham never looked in their direction, she chatted to the staff on either side of her, Hagrid and Filch.  She wore sea green robes, but no hat on the shaggy blonde hair.  The gold drop earrings swung, glittering in the candlelight as she turned her head.  Snape remembered he still hadn’t discovered whether her ears were pierced.

Anxious to avoid conversation, Snape retired quite early that night but he couldn’t sleep so finally he lit a candle and sorted through his stack of pornographic magazines.  He gazed almost hypnotised, as the young witches and wizards adjusted their coital positions before his eyes.  Ah yes, he sighed.  The witch who likes to get on all fours and who occasionally allows anal.  And the spiky-pink-haired lady who likes oral and will reciprocate.  Wow!  He turned the page.  Mmmm, she’s nice.  He gazed fervently at a dark haired beauty who was wearing nothing but a velvet choker and black leather boots that reached above her knees.  She opened her thighs, smiled invitingly at him and beckoned him forward.  It seemed almost real.  With trembling hands he propped the magazine in view at the end of his bed and reached under the bedclothes for his erection...

***

On Wednesday mornings Snape had a single free period and on these occasions he was often gratified to find the staff room empty.  It saved him having to chat and socialise.  However on the first Wednesday in December he discovered he was out of luck.  Flinging the door open, he was greeted by a low buzz of conversation.

“But what about the ones who don’t even make the House trials?”

“Well, yes.  I suppose you have a point.  Oh, good morning, Severus!  Oh please!  Don’t go on our account” Hooch exclaimed.

Snape hesitated at the door.  “Good morning Marie-Louise; Elizabeth” he said coldly, nodding to each witch in turn.  He closed the door behind him and took his customary chair by the fire.  He wanted to make himself some tea, but feared that standing at the refreshment table would put him at risk of being ‘talked to’ and he was not in a mood for socialising.  Noisily he shook out his newspaper and retreated behind it.  He was relieved to hear Hooch and Graham resume their conversation.  They spoke in low, unobtrusive tones.

“So what did you have in mind?”

“Three levels possibly” he heard Graham say.  “Something really taxing for the fit ones.  A general aerobic workout for the intermediates and a stretch class for the less fit.”

“Can I see your routine?”

“What – you want me to demonstrate?  Course!  Anytime.  I’ll have to soundproof a room but that’s no bother.”

They chatted on, and Snape lost interest.  He turned to the crossword, folded the paper and began to scribble.  Often he could do most of this before lunch, but today’s compiler was not his favourite.  “Aha!  Symphony” they heard him mutter, writing furiously.  He sighed.  At times he cursed quietly under his breath.  The two witches smiled.  Four clues later he was badly stuck.  “Milton’s monster takes thirty-nine steps” he muttered, louder than he realised.  “Blast!”

“Gryphon, possibly.  Or Arimaspian” Graham said.  Seeing Snape look up with a pained expression of enquiry she continued.  “As when a gryphon through the wilderness, with wingéd course o’er hill or moory dale, pursues the Arimaspian, who by stealth had from his wakeful custody purloined the guarded gold.  It’s the literary innkeeper’s Paradise Lost quote in The Thirty Nine Steps.  How many letters?”

“Um?”  Snape was dumfounded!  “Err, seven.  How d’you spel…  Is gryphon, G-R-Y-P-H-O-N?”

“Yes, I think so.  Any good?” Graham enquired.

“Fits with symphony.  Err… thank you” Snape said coldly, scribbling it down.  He eyed Graham carefully.  She had resumed her discrete conversation with Hooch and paid him no more attention.  Unwilling to seek further help, he made more effort to keep silent.  I’ll have to revise my view of Dizzy Lizzy, Snape decided.

***

On Sunday 14th December, as the last of the autumn leaves swirled in the wind, Snape was hoping for a game of chess after his late breakfast, but he found Flitwick was occupied helping Sprout, Graham and the Head Boy and Girl to decorate the twelve Christmas trees that Hagrid had manoeuvred into the Great Hall.  Snape wondered whether the Charms Professor might be persuaded to leave the others to it, but Flitwick seemed to be enjoying himself hugely.  He promised Snape a game of chess in the afternoon.  Snape stood for a while watching the five of them work.  Elizabeth’s quite artistic, he decided.  He recalled how she had helped with the Hallowe’en decorations and realised he shouldn’t be surprised.  She obviously has a good eye for colour, he conceded.

***

Having misread the time, Snape was half-an-hour early for the end of term staff meeting.  Restlessly he paced a circuit around Dumbledore’s empty office and then descended the spiral staircase once again, wondering where the others were.  At the foot of the staircase a sound in the neighbouring room alerted him and he peered in to find Graham fixing a length of parchment horizontally along one wall of her ‘office’.

Sandwiched in between McGonagall’s office and the staircase wall, Graham’s room was, by Hogwarts’ standards, very small indeed.  “My!  This is cosy” Snape said derisively.  At the sound of his voice her head whipped around.

“This?  It’s OK” she replied, annoyed at his sneering comment.  “It’s all I need.  Except I wish it had a fireplace.”

“Feel the cold, do you?”  His voice was rather acid but she was getting used to that.  She didn’t look as though she felt the cold; lime green baggy pants and a camisole top were covered by a long sleeved green and gold jacket, but all were in a thin, floaty material.  She habitually wore blue or green, usually in soft pastel shades.  It reminded Snape of Gilderoy Lockhart, and he didn’t enjoy the experience.

Graham, busily using the Scribario spell to write on the parchment, was ignoring him.  He noticed the parchment was divided into columns, and the months, starting from September, had been entered along the top.  He moved closer, trying to work out what she was doing.  A list was forming down the left hand side – ‘balance brought forward, income, realisations, sub-total, teaching equipment, teaching materials, food, building, grounds, fuel, clothing and laundry, travelling and hospitality…’  Once ‘sub-total’, ‘investments’ and ‘balance carried forward’ had been added Graham’s vertical list was complete.  She used another spell to create faint horizontal lines across the parchment.  Then she stepped back, gently knocking into Snape as she did so, and thereby re-establishing her personal space.  She was weary of him breathing down her neck and she turned, looking him in the eye.

“Would you like some tea, Mister Snake-in-the-Grass?” she asked with a self-satisfied smile.  It was almost time for the meeting to begin and she would be expected to provide refreshments.

Snape gave her a cool stare and contemplated asking whether she always addressed Heads of Houses in that insolent fashion.  But something about the confidence in her humorous eyes warned him that he may come off worse in a serious argument, he had intruded into her office and started the sarcastic exchange and this was no unworldly, prim McGonagall – this witch was from the big city.  “What did Miss Paperclips have in mind” he enquired in a half-teasing but cold tone.  “Indian?  Or chamomile?”

Graham laughed.  “Indian as it happens, but Miss Paperclips can make herbal if you want.  Or coffee.”  She arched an eyebrow.  “Miss Paperclips is a multi-talented witch.”

Snape inclined his head in a small mock bow.  “Indian will do” he said softly.  He took a seat in Dumbledore’s office and minutes later Graham brought in two steaming beakers.  Other staff members drifted in and she busied herself with making more drinks.

The staff meeting turned out to be, to Snape’s surprise, atypically interesting.  It began as usual with Dumbledore dealing with curriculum business…

“Amy, I understand you and Severus have completed your research into the properties of the new species of groundsel.  How are you finding it in cultivation?”

“The common groundsel / Oxford ragwort hybridisation?  No problem to grow, Headmaster” Amarila Sprout explained.  “My seventh years have trialled it in Greenhouse Four and we’ve found it just needs a well drained, but moist, and preferably sandy soil, and temperatures above five degrees Fahrenheit.  The seed germinates best in disturbed soil.  So far as I can tell from their press, most Muggles haven’t noticed it yet.  And when they do they’ll just class it as a weed as they do with most of the Senecios.”

“Excellent.  Thank you.  And the potion, Severus?”

“Not excessively complicated, Headmaster.  Very much as was indicated in research papers summarised in ‘The Potion Maker’.  As a memory modifier it will no doubt have its place.  At least, unlike the Obliviate spell, it cannot misfire.”  Snape smiled grimly.  “That is as long as the intended victim drinks it” he added darkly.

“Then I think we are ready to add our findings to the agenda for the next Governors’ meeting” Dumbledore stated.  He looked at Graham to ensure her charmed quill was noting this down.  “The Governors meanwhile have raised two matters they suggest could be considered as topics for Muggle Studies – trends in European Community security philosophy following Voldemort’s demise, and Muggle reactions to Earth-Close-Approaching Asteroids.”  He looked at Sinistra as he added “I believe they are thinking particularly of 1997-XF11.  They would like both of these issues to be considered for inclusion in future syllabuses…”

The teaching staff discussed these two topics and eventually decided to recommend them to the Education Department’s Curriculum Development Section.  That completed the curriculum business and Dumbledore said “Now we have two other matters to consider.  Elizabeth, which would you like to take first?”

“Exercise classes first I think, Headmaster” Graham replied, bringing her charmed quill to a halt.  Unfazed by anyone, she let her gaze wander over all of their faces.  “Ever since I came here” she began, “No … before that … even when I was a pupil here, I was struck by the fact that students who don’t play Quidditch have no form of exercise in the curriculum apart from flying lessons.  Quidditch is popular, obviously, and most students like to try for the House teams.  But not everyone likes Quidditch.  And flying lessons can be given up in the third year to make way for other subjects.  So I want to try offering exercise classes – voluntary classes – to run, possibly daily, from half-past eleven until one o’clock.  The classes will be pitched at three levels; beginners and those of lesser fitness can come to my stretch classes, there will also be aerobics at an intermediate level and aerobics at an advanced level – a really punishing class that even Quidditch team members will get something out of.”

“I’ve seen what Liz plans to do” Hooch chipped in.  “It’s really good, very comprehensive.”  Graham gave her a smile of thanks.

“Where will ze classes take plaise?” Vector asked.

“In the old Tennis Court” Graham replied.  “It was built as an exercise room so it’s strangely appropriate really.  In time I hope to install a sprung floor, but to begin with I’ll have to charm it.  And use a soundproofing charm!  The main cost will be in building changing rooms with showers.  Which brings me to my next topic.  But first of all, are there any questions?”

“Indeed there are!  Half-past eleven will clash with lessons” Snape observed sharply.  “I’m not releasing pupils from my classes to take part in keep fit!”

“You’re not expected to” Graham replied firmly, returning his sharpness with boldness.  “Students can only attend in free periods or in their lunch time.  I have a copy of the timetable, anyone who should be at a lesson will not be admitted.”

“There will be a cost” Flitwick pointed out in a much kindlier voice than Snape’s.  “What if no one’s interested?”

“The Headmaster has personally agreed to underwrite the provision of two changing rooms each with a shower cubicle” Graham replied.  “If this proves popular I will ask for a possible two additional cubicles to be paid for from funds I hope to generate.  But that’s in the future.”  She glanced at Dumbledore.

“Yes, you had better talk about cash flow now” he said.

“Yes, cash flow” Graham stated.  “That is the next thing I want to discuss, and it involves us all.  As you know, the school is funded mostly by student fees and partly by a grant from the Education Department.  As individuals, we receive our salaries directly from the Department – bank transfers to our personal Gringotts accounts, funded from the grant.  The school also receives a bank credit on the first working day of every month from the Department.  It consists of a twelfth of the annual fees that are payable by the students’ parents, and we get our money even if the parents haven’t paid.  We don’t get penalised for bad debts.  From this we pay for supplies – classroom materials, building and grounds costs, food, fuel, Governors’ expenses – there’s quite a long list.  Many of these payments are contractual, the dates cannot be varied.  Some others are under our control.  Others crop up out of the blue.  Our bank account is usually in surplus – very much in surplus – I’ve checked back some years and it’s NEVER been overdrawn longer than two days.

“If we plan our spending, we can invest most of this surplus.  I have analysed our income and expenditure for the last two academic years and worked out projections for the current year.  I plan to invest any day-by-day surplus to generate additional income.  When I say I plan to invest it, I mean I will instruct Gringotts to place it in the money market.  They will do so for a modest fee.  To keep tabs on the surplus I will be asking each of you just before the start of every month what spending you have planned for that month.  I will also need you to let me know if an emergency crops up that requires unplanned spending.  I will issue more detailed guidance later, but for now I need to know – does this make sense to you?  Each month stating in advance – what you have planned.  And notifying to me as they happen – any emergencies.”

There was a moment’s silence as the staff thought this over.  For many of them it was an unfamiliar concept.

“Will this extra money be ours to keep?  I mean will it be the school’s?” Rookwood asked.

“Yes it will be the school’s” Graham confirmed.  “I have that in writing from the Department.”

“What if we need to spend and you have invested all the surplus?” Sinistra asked, wondering whether the lunascopes she had planned to buy but had neglected to mention to McGonagall would not now be allowed.

“If you need to spend, you spend, and you let me know” Graham replied.  “This is not about muzzling spending.  It is simply up to me to pull back funds to keep us in credit.”

The staff talked on, a little apprehensive but quite intrigued.  They wanted to know how much income might be generated and how they could spend it.

“You will have to bid for it” Dumbledore cut in.  “Elizabeth’s bid for more showers must stand alongside any others such as (his blue eyes twinkled at Hooch) new brooms no doubt.  Don’t expect a sudden fortune in spare cash.  Elizabeth will be starting off in a modest way and trying to get this to, err, snowball.  You will not find this procedure difficult, it is mainly a matter of good communications.  It does not require you to be mathematicians, Elizabeth will take care of the calculations.”

“How will you communicate with the bank every day?” Trelawney asked.

McGonagall tried to suppress a smile and the urge to say “Surely Sybill, as Divination Professor you can tell us that!”  Graham noticed and chipped in before any bitchiness could start.

“By Floo-line from Minerva’s fireplace” she explained.  “Gringotts will owl me daily, with the opening balance and the rates, but interest rates can vary during the day.  I’ll need to check at the moment I invest what rates are on offer, because there’s no point in tying up money for a month, or three months or whatever, if the differences are marginal.  In a gently rising market I might do better to place it at, say, seven days notice and look again a week later.”

color:white'>So that’s why you want a fireplace, Snape realised.  He noticed Graham seemed to enjoy the full support of Dumbledore and McGonagall.  She had quite a personal standing already.  He regretted his jibe about her feeling the cold, it now seemed slightly foolish.

Review

Author's Note: The common grounsel has indeed hybridised with the Oxford ragwort to produce what is now accepted as a new plant species, and 1997-XF11 is also a genuine phenomenon.

Chapter Five - Help Me Pull this Cracker

The school awoke on the following day to almost a foot of snow.  Snape’s dungeon bedroom was freezing.  It was a habit of his to keep the window open a fraction so that he could come and go in bat form; a precaution that had always served him well.  For him, comfort took a poor second place to expediency.

Snape found he had overslept badly.  He had taken a sleeping potion and they often tended to make him sleep in, which was one reason why he rarely resorted to them on term-time week days.  Even the extreme cold had not wakened him.  He debated whether to order breakfast from the kitchen but finally opted for a hot bath and to arrive very promptly for lunch.

* * *

On Christmas morning Snape was surprised to see Graham at the breakfast table, she seemed to have missed breakfasts for days.  An owl swooped in and dropped her a letter.  Her face was grave as she read it, and at times she ran her fingers from the centre of her forehead straight back through her hair.  It was a gesture he remembered from her schooldays.  Her hair always fell back into its ragged natural almost central parting, and his mouth twitched in a tiny smile as he imagined her towelling it dry in a similarly casual way.

Finally she got up and showed the letter to McGonagall.  Dumbledore glanced at it too.  “Use my office on the day” he said in a kindly tone.  “Note it in the diary, in case Minerva and I forget.  Try not to worry, color:white'>Elizabeth.”

“Thank you Headmaster; Minerva” Graham replied, and she returned to her seat.  She finished her orange juice and re-read the letter.  Then, seeming to have lost her appetite, she abandoned the remains of her porridge and walked purposefully out of the Hall.

Snape couldn’t decide whether he found the Christmas lunch amusing or annoying.  There were very few to luncheon, so the House tables had been removed in favour of just one long table.  Dumbledore sat opposite Flitwick and next to McGonagall.  Rookwood took the opportunity to sit opposite Graham and monopolise any conversation with her.  Snape, not wanting to be lumbered with Trelawney, Hagrid, or any students, walked up to the head of the table and sat in between Dumbledore and Flitwick.  He watched Rookwood carefully, half-suspecting that the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor was trying to playing footsie with Graham under the table, but a surreptitious glance beneath the table cloth proved inconclusive.  Do witches find him attractive? Snape wondered.

Pendleton Rookwood was a moderately tall, slim wizard of around fifty.  He had brownish-red hair, a thin face with a delicately curved nose, and a ready smile tinged with sadness.  A fox-like face, Snape had long-ago dubbed it.  The sadness in his smile was accentuated by his brown eyes; he had a habit of turning his gaze on witches with a sorrowful expression in what Snape termed ‘Rookwood’s faithful-spaniel look’.  He was cousin to the notorious Death Eater and Ministry of Magic informer – Augustus Rookwood – which was the main reason why Snape didn’t trust him.  I wonder if  Elizabeth knows of this Death Eater connection? Snape mused.

Graham looked very attractive in her turquoise robes.  She seemed to have recovered from whatever had worried her at breakfast, and was chatting happily to Rookwood.  Something of the Dizzy Lizzy sparkle was again evident in her manner.  Rookwood was putting on his devoted spaniel act.  “Will you help me pull this cracker, Lizzy?” he purred almost conspiratorially, and followed the question up with and imploring gaze.

color:white'>You bastard! Snape thought savagely, angry that Rookwood was something of a master of the thinly veiled double entendre.  He watched Rookwood offer Graham the end of a silver Christmas cracker.  It yielded a set of Gob Stones and a pink crown which he insisted on placing on her head, with many delicate adjustments and comments about how well it looked on her pretty hair.  Graham’s shiny red cracker produced a travelling wizard chess set and a black, pirate’s hat complete with a white skull and cross bones motif.  Graham obviously found this hilarious.  She stood up and leant across the table to place the hat on Rookwood’s head.

“Excellent, this is really you!  I couldn’t have devised anything better if I’d peeked inside the cracker and charmed its contents!” she chuckled.

“Oh come now, Lizzy.  Do you think me as much of a bad boy as that?” Rookwood simpered.

“Oh yes!  Far worse” Graham replied emphatically.  “I have no illusions about you, Penny!”

Snape’s face twisted in a bitter smile at the force behind her remark.  Good, he thought, perhaps she has got him taped…

“Your turn now, big man” a voice said suddenly in Snape’s ear.

Snape jumped and found the matronly Matron, Poppy Pomfrey standing over him, brandishing a gold cracker.  “Oh gods, must I?” he pleaded softly.

“C’mon!” she barked.

She was no less formidable, even in her jester’s hat; there was no denying Poppy Pomfrey.  Dutifully Snape took the end of the cracker and pulled.  A pack of Exploding Snap cards and a black-tasselled purple fez appeared.  Pomfrey clamped the fez on Snape’s greasy hair.  “Thank you so much, Poppy” he whispered, giving her a withering smile.

She grinned and made some inaudible comment about miserable humbugs.  The golden bells on her curly three-pointed hat jingled faintly as she tottered back to her seat between Graham and McGonagall.

After lunch Snape lost a game of chess to Flitwick.  The two wizards played quite often and Flitwick habitually won most of their games, but although he would prefer to win, Snape still enjoyed the challenge.

In the late afternoon he took a stroll in the grounds.  Another big meal was looming – Christmas tea – so he needed some exercise.  Snape walked for a while into the Forest and then re-entered the school parkland, pounding as fast as was possible through the snow, up to the Quidditch Pitch.  A couple of students were having a snowball fight in the snow that had drifted deeply in the enclosure.  From the back of the low stands a figure was watching them.  Wrapped in a bottle green cloak, Graham sat alone.  She looked thoughtful.

“May I join you, Elizabeth?” Snape asked in a low pitched and hesitant voice.

“Of course.  Please do.”  She flashed a sad smile at him and seemed to brighten up.

“You don’t have Professor Rookwood for company” Snape observed carefully.  Using his wand he ‘de-snowed’ a section of bench a respectable distance from her.

Elizabeth snorted.  “No.  I’ve beaten him off for now.  Don’t read too much into that, Severus.”

“You don’t mind my company?”

“No, no.  Please stay.”

“You seem to have settled in here very well” Snape said, aware that he was nervous and struggling to cast about for conversation.  Social graces never came easily to him, and he was both half-contemptuous and half-jealous of Rookwood’s easy charm.

“Yes, I believe I have” Graham replied.  “It’s wonderful working here.  Certainly very different to being a pupil.  Everyone has made me welcome, although I must admit I haven’t managed to strike up much conversation with Professor Sinistra.”

“Ah yes, the exotic Iranian.  Rea never says much” Snape explained.  Unconsciously he began to relax.

“Is she Muslim?” Graham asked.  “I see she always wears a veil over her hair, but it hangs loose on her shoulders and she doesn’t veil her face.”

“I believe she is a Zoroastrian” Snape replied.  “She’s proud of her Persian and Mesopotamian ancestry, and of the achievements of those ancient civilisations in developing mathematics and astronomy.”  He gave a small, half-deprecating laugh.  “I’ve sat next to Rea at the dining table for years and we’ve hardly exchanged more than a few dozen words.  I’m not the greatest conversationalist either” he admitted.

“Well, I won’t automatically assume her silence means she dislikes me then” Graham replied.

They chatted together for a while and Graham began to realise Snape was a well-read and learned person.  Up to now she had hardly spoken to him aside from a ‘good morning’ and the necessities of work interactions.  He seemed to be a shy man and to use sarcasm to conceal it.  He had a deep baritone voice that was wonderful to listen to – soft, rich and purring – but surprisingly he didn’t use it to flirt.  Rookwood would have made unbridled use of such a voice in his attempts at philandering.  In contrast to him, Snape was reserved; a curious mixture of pomposity, arrogance and reticence.

She realised it was getting late.  “C’mon then, Potions Master” she said rather commandingly to him.  “It will soon be time for tea.  We had better head indoors.”

Talking quietly together, they trudged back through the snow.

* * *

A little too fatigued to maintain his customarily prowling stride, Snape glided unhurriedly down the empty dungeon corridor and halted at the appropriate point in the seemingly continuous wall.  He muttered the password ‘Fer-de-Lance’ and a section of the stonework rolled back, revealing the entrance to the Slytherin common room.  There were few students in the room on that evening of Saturday 27th as most had already gone home for Christmas.  To Snape’s satisfaction, Malfoy however had not – Malfoy had little reason to hurry home these days.

Draco Malfoy was surprised almost to the point of alarm when Snape made an appearance.  Snape inspired such a mixture of fear and respect in his students that he hardly ever needed to enter their common room, so if he did it usually meant someone was in grave trouble.  However this time, and with the common room’s green lamps making him look exceedingly ill, the pale-complexioned House Master merely paced majestically over to Malfoy and said “Mr Malfoy.  Spare me five minutes in my office.  Now, if you please.”

Dutifully, Malfoy followed Snape along the dungeon corridor.  He noticed the House Master’s leisurely gait and had hopes that this interview was nothing too serious.  Entering Snape’s office he eyed the seat by the meagre fire, however Snape motioned him to the chair in front of the desk – the chair the Slytherin students referred to as ‘The Electric Chair’.  Malfoy’s sense of foreboding notched back up slightly.

Snape sat for a moment in total silence; his mind far from Hogwarts.  His thoughts were roaming the countryside, flitting from one Operational Base to another as he debated a problem.  Seconds later he brought his attention back to school matters and closed the debate with an almost audible mutter of What difference can it make?  The Dark Lord is no more.  He turned his attention instead to Malfoy and regarded the student carefully as his hands reached for a sealed envelope.  Malfoy was his most senior prefect this year and quite reliable; certainly the most reliable student in the House.  “I need to take a couple of days away from work, Draco” Snape explained.  “I want you to keep an eye on the House while I am away.”

“Very well, Professor” Malfoy replied politely.

“I don’t want any trouble in my absence” Snape continued menacingly.  “You do understand, don’t you!”

It was not a question.  “Yes, sir” Malfoy replied.  He did understand.  Snape’s temper was very uncertain these days and all the Slytherins had to watch their step.  Also, Malfoy was no longer the confident, braggart he had been in his earlier years at school.  The unmasking of his treasured House Master as Voldemort’s relentless foe, and far more importantly, the imprisonment of Malfoy’s Death Eater father Lucius, had marked the boy indelibly.  He no longer idolised Snape as a Death Eater but he was ever more wary of him, Snape had turned out to be far more formidable than he could have imagined.

Snape was handing him the envelope which Malfoy noticed was addressed to Professor Dumbledore.  “Give this to the Headmaster tomorrow morning, at or before breakfast” Snape commanded.  “Don’t forget!”

“Certainly, sir; you can rely on me.”

“That will be all, Draco.  Thank you…  Good night to you.”

“Good night, Professor.”

Malfoy left.  Snape sighed.  He felt worn out and he was shivering at times as if he had influenza.  He brewed a Dreamless Sleep Potion and headed for his bedchamber.

Dutifully on Sunday morning Malfoy gave Dumbledore the sealed note.  The Headmaster thanked him and waited until the boy was returning to his seat before opening it.  He showed it to McGonagall.

Hogwarts,  almost midnight,  27 December, 1997

Headmaster,

I need to rest for a couple of days.  Malfoy can take care of matters in my House.  I will be in my chamber and would appreciate being left alone.  I will be up in time for New Year’s Eve.

Regards,

Severus Snape

“I had better go and see him, Minerva” Dumbledore said.  “I expect he’s taken a potion so I’ll leave it a while.  Eleven o’clock should suffice.”

It was actually closer to ten thirty when Dumbledore knocked on Snape’s bedchamber door.  He was too anxious to leave it any later.  He knew the password to the door but did not like to barge in.  “Severus?  It’s Albus” he called.  A muffled “come in” sounded from within the chamber.  Snape had not sealed the door.

The North-facing dungeon room was virtually in darkness and Dumbledore waved his wand to light the candles that stood in the black iron ring suspended from the boss of the cross-vaulted ceiling.  Their flames fluttered in a draught.  Snape was rolled in a heap of bedclothes, his face almost as grey as his nightshirt.  His skin had a greasy sheen and his hair looked like oily rats tails.  Dumbledore wanted to move him to the hospital wing but Snape was adamant that he just wanted to rest in his room, undisturbed for a few days.

“Then let Poppy nurse you here” the kindly Headmaster suggested, but again there was a flat refusal.

The room was cold and Dumbledore kindled a fire.  He looked around the tiny chamber which had the austerity of a monk’s cell rather than the comfort of a bedroom.  The narrow bed was fitted into an alcove in the outside wall and was surrounded on three sides by bookshelves crammed full with hardback books.  Snape was an avid reader and enjoyed history, biography, poetry and classics as well as books on alternative medicine and alchemy.  He even had a few modern novels.  Dumbledore was aware that his bedside cabinet, which stood between the bed and the hearth, contained his most secret possessions.  Its cupboard was locked and the whole cabinet anchored in place by powerful spells.  By contrast, in full view, the cabinet’s shelf contained a stack of pornographic magazines.  Apart from house-elves no one else entered this room and having worked together for so long, these two wizards had few secrets from one-another.  Along the inside wall of the room stood a wardrobe on one side of the door and a tallboy and trunk on the other.  A torch rested in a wall bracket above the trunk.  Next to the chimney breast a door connected with Snape’s office, and facing it in the opposite wall was the door to his bathroom.  The freezing flagstone floor was bare except for a large, square, and very shabby rug that bordered the bed and stretched across in front of the hearth.  The only seating was a two-person pew salvaged from a ruined church.  It stood at an angle on the rug, opposite the fireplace, quite incongruously, as Snape rarely bothered with a fire.  Its wooden seat bore no cushion.

Conscious of the draught, Dumbledore looked up at the tiny triangle of window high above the main run of bookshelves.  “It’s high time you took up my offer of moving to decent quarters” he remarked.  “This accommodation hardly befits a Head of House.  If you had a suitable bedroom you could have a proper four-poster bed.”  He knew it was a waste of time.  Snape had always insisted on staying put in this bleak, cold prison cell.

Eventually Dumbledore was persuaded that Snape was not at death’s door on this occasion, and he required no food, drink, nor anything else.  As politely as he could Snape requested the Headmaster to douse the candles and take his leave.  Illuminated now only by light from the fire, Snape rolled tighter in a black blanket and closed his eyes.  He looked uncommonly like a bat.

With one last worried look at him, Dumbledore left.

Review

Chapter Six -  Almost as One

As the staff and the few students who had stayed for Christmas, chatted affably in the Great Hall, waiting to see in the New Year, Snape knew it was time to make himself scarce.  To music from The Weird Sisters, Hooch, Sprout and Vector were dancing with their respective husbands.  Dewy-eyed Rookwood was sure to try making a pass at Graham quite soon.  Lacking the courage to do likewise, Hagrid would get drunk.  Sinistra and Pince would remain aloof.  Trelawney would get giggly.  McGonagall would either get giggly or disapproving depending on her mood – Snape was betting on ‘disapproving’ this year.  And Dumbledore would find it all highly amusing.

It was so predictable.  Happy bloody New Year! Snape said to himself.

For the sake of politeness he drank a second goblet of red wine and helped himself to a couple of canapés from the top table, but by ten o’clock Snape’s patience was exhausted.  He caught Dumbledore’s eye and the Headmaster gave him a surreptitious nod, his permission to leave.  Snape slipped out to start patrolling the castle.

Arriving at the third floor he could hear a mumble of voices from behind the huge Christmas tree that stood next to the statue of Gregory the Smarmy.

“Oh, come on Hermione.  Just one.  It is Christmas” Weasley was pleading.

“Actually it’s not Christmas, Ron, it’s New Year” Granger replied “and… look, I’m very fond of you… but as a FRIEND, OK?  Please try to understand–  No!  STOPPIT!”

A tall and angry witch with a head of bushy brown curls erupted from behind the Christmas tree.  Eyes flashing, Hermione Granger marched off towards the Main Staircase, and as it happened, towards Snape.  “Is everything all right, Miss Granger?” Snape enquired smoothly, his eyebrows arching.

She glared at him; her shield-shaped Head Girl badge shone like battle breastplate on the lapel of her Gryffindor robes.  “Yes thank you.  Excuse me Professor” she replied in a low and level voice.

She flounced off.  I seem to have lost the art of intimidating Granger, Snape observed.  He ambled towards the Christmas tree and waited.  “Come out, Weasley” Snape called at last.  “You’re pathetic, boy” he added, seeing Weasley’s guilty face.  “Ten points from Gryffindor.  Now get back to the Great Hall.”

He watched Ron Weasley lumber dejectedly down the marble stairs.  She’s just not interested, Weasley, he felt like calling out.  I should know! he thought, remembering Lily fighting off his own advances twenty-odd years earlier.  The rejection still hurt him, possibly more than anything anyone else had ever done to him.

color:white'>I need some fresh air, Snape decided.  He fetched his spare cloak from the wardrobe in the staff room and headed outside.  A lengthy circuit eventually brought him back to the rose garden that had been planted in the year of the Triwizard tournament.  A light powdering of snow had fallen but the paths were quite clear.  Amid the bushes and statuary, he believed he could see a figure sitting on a stone bench.  Better still, he was sure it was two figures!  Yes!  Potter and…?

Oblivious of the winter chill, mouths locked together, the figures clung in a fierce embrace.  “POTTER” Snape barked.  The figures sprang apart and there was a rustling of robes.  Snape smiled savagely.  “Twenty points from Gryffindor, Potter” he drawled.  “And… Miss Chang!  What are you doing here?  Pity I can’t take twenty points from Ravenclaw.”  He gave the former student a petulant stare.

“We were only talking, Professor” Potter said lamely.

“Talking?  Potter you were so close together you hardly needed words!  Your minds were – almost as one!  How very touching” Snape purred.  “Let’s see” he continued, summoning up as much vindictiveness as he dared.  “For lying to me, let’s make that a nice round fifty points from Gryffindor.  Now get inside the pair of you.  And may I suggest you adjust your robes, Miss Chang?”

As Cho Chang blushed and fastened her buttons Snape swished away across the snowy grass, taking a meandering route towards the lake.  He was still in no hurry to return to the Hall.  He was, however, delighted he had been able to deduct fifty house points from the Head Boy.

color:white'>In fact sixty points in all, this evening from Gryffindor! he reminded himself.

There was a tell-tale rustle in the bushes to his right.  His delight turned to annoyance as a blast from his wand revealed Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson.  “For goodness sake, boy” he snarled “I’ll have to take five points from you.  From each of you in fact, Miss Parkinson!” he added acidly.  “Now get inside dammit, and don’t let me catch you again.”  Snape watched them head back towards the castle and his thoughts returned to Harry Potter.

color:white'>So, Miss Chang returns, Snape mused, remembering he had caught Potter with her the year before when Chang was in her final year.  Hmm, he’s nothing if not consistent.  Faithful even, as is she!  Snape lit his wand to read his watch and noticed there was only some twenty minutes or so left of 1997.  Almost twenty-to-twelve.  I shall have to go in now.  Auld Lang Syne and then I’m free.  I wonder where Elizabeth will sleep tonight.  Will Rookwood or Hagrid get lucky?  No, somehow I suspect not.  She’s wearing pink tonight, and there was I thinking she limits her wardrobe to blue and green.  Pink brings out the colour of those delectable lips.  I suppose her nipples are pink, too, if she’s an authentic blonde.  I wonder if she is.  She was always blonde at school, wasn’t she?

He didn’t think he could remember Graham in her first or second year; only later.  He had turned fourteen in the October of her first year and his amorous inclinations were taken up one hundred per cent by a secret unrequited love for Lily Evans.  The rest of his energy was devoted to work, mainly potions (officially) in a quest for prestige.  Defence Against the Dark Arts featured significantly too, as did (unofficially) the Dark Arts themselves.  Any residual energy was spent on plots against James Potter and Sirius Black.

How he had longed in those days to inflict the Cruciatus curse on Black and Potter.  They, he was sure, knew it too, and used to enjoy provoking him.  He managed to hit Black with a full body-bind one day, and earned himself a detention from the young but formidable Professor McGonagall.  For his detention young Mr Filch was planning to make Snape polish the trophies in the trophy room, but Snape suggested that if he could use magic he could deal with the trophy room very quickly and then repair the fifth floor tap washers.  So the unlikely pair spent a profitable time working their way around the school plumbing.  The new caretaker was impressed, as this useful magic saved him a great deal of real work.  They decided to pretend Snape had carried out his detention properly, slaving in the trophy room.  Snape was delighted – he had turned Filch into a long-term, reliable and toadying ally, and Black and McGonagall thought Snape had been properly punished.  He had promised himself he would enlighten them one day.

Back in the present, Snape turned in the direction of the main steps and headed after Malfoy and Parkinson.  Far ahead of him a lone female figure was also converging on the steps – a graceful figure with a sadness in her slow, purposeful walk, and dressed in a dark cloak that he guessed was bottle green.

“Miss Graham?” he called out.

She halted and looked around.  “Mmm, very formal, Professor” came her serene reply.

“Elizabeth!” Snape said, catching her up.  “I wasn’t sure it was you.  Not partying?”

“No, not until the end” she replied as they climbed the steps.  “I can live without an evening of dancing with Pendleton Rookwood” she explained with a wry grin, and she walked off to hang up her cloak.

Lofty as it was, the Great Hall seemed warm to Snape after the cold night air.  Potter and Chang were talking to Flitwick.  Dumbledore was standing by McGonagall who was sitting very upright in a dining chair.  Snape watched him bend towards her to speak to her.  Something in Dumbledore’s manner – intimacy? apprehension? – made Snape fight shy of interrupting them.  Eventually he caught the Headmaster’s eye and Dumbledore strolled over to him.

“All well, Severus?” he asked.

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“What will I do when you one day decide you like socialising, and choose to stay with us?”

“Is that likely, Headmaster?” Snape replied dryly, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.  “Stranger things have happened, Severus” he remarked.

“Well, I suppose you could always recruit Jerry” Snape drawled mischievously.

Dumbledore gave him a satirical smile.  “Touché!  Events may one day prove me wrong, but I cannot quite see Jeremiah Binns flushing over-sexed teenagers out of the shrubbery.”  They chucked quietly together.  Binns, the ghost Professor who taught History of Magic, had not let his own death get in the way of teaching his subject; History of Magic was the only thing his world consisted of.  Dumbledore looked again towards McGonagall and Snape sensed something forced about the casual sound of his next words.  “I’m glad to see you are quite recovered now, Severus.  As it happens, Minerva is a little under the weather.”

color:white'>Could that be why you engaged and Admin Officer? Snape wondered.  “Then Headmaster, perhaps you had better retire to bed immediately after Auld Lang Syne.  I can see to matters here, on your behalf.”

Dumbledore gave him a grateful smile.  “Thank you, Severus” he said quietly.  “You are a good friend.”

“Headmaster.”  Snape made a small bow as Dumbledore ambled back to McGonagall.

Somewhere in the castle a bell was tolling midnight and everyone began to gather in a ragged circle.  Snape looked for Graham but could not see her.  He joined the circle between McGonagall and Pince and then saw Rookwood shepherding Graham to a place next to Emile Hooch.  Everyone was crossing arms and linking hands.  They started singing.  Graham caught his eye; she smiled at Snape – something seemed to be amusing her.  Gradually her gaze wandered slowly on around the circle.  As the song ended Snape turned dutifully to right and left, giving McGonagall and Pince the regulation pecks of feigned affection and receiving their modest kisses in return.  He didn’t see Emile Hooch kiss Graham but when he could look again Rookwood was mouth to mouth with her, an arm snaking around her waist.  She didn’t look angry but she broke away and spoke to him.

“Now-now, tiger.  I’ll turn a fire hose on you if I need to” Snape heard her mutter.  “Be warned!”

Rookwood, all affability, was laughing gently and half apologising.

Review

 

End of Part 1 - Read Part 2  - Read Part 3