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Killing Time

Chapter Text

He did not Apparate, though if Potter were to be believed, he could have. Nor did he Floo, though the house had almost certainly been connected to the Floo Network. He walked—because he was angry, because the trip was long, and because he did not, in fact, want to reach his destination.

He had set out from St. Mungo’s carrying a battered, gray suitcase in one fist and Potter’s missive clenched in the other.

The Healers at St. Mungo’s had been kind, if kindness could be defined as not kicking him out on his arse immediately upon his waking. They had tiptoed around him for the first several days, urging him to drink liquids, to walk from his bed to the window, and to perform childish spells with his wand. When he had done these things to their satisfaction, they had, apparently, deemed him cured, and a young Healer had come to him with a list.

He had ignored it for nearly a week. This had not been out of the simple wish to thwart them, though such an impulse could not be denied, but because his body had still felt strange to him, new and hesitant. He had been held in an enchanted sleep for nearly sixteen weeks, and though the Healers had taken care to ensure that his muscles did not atrophy, his body had not felt like his own. And it had seemed to him that perhaps a few more weeks recuperation were not too much to ask, given all that he had endured. It seemed to him that he was owed this bed in the Dai Llewellyn Ward, if not forever, then at least until he’d had time to plan. But before six days had become seven, the young Healer had returned and said, not unkindly, “Mr Snape, there are patients waiting to be admitted to this ward. Have you chosen a facility?”

A facility. The list of facilities had begun with Harry Potter’s name, circled in red. From there, it had gone on to list the names of six other witches and wizards who, it seemed, were offering services (he could hardly bring himself to think the word charity) to those who had been left homeless after the war. Halfway houses. Shelters. The entire notion had filled him with disgust.

It was not living among others that troubled him, he thought as he strode toward Grimmauld Place. He’d lived in a castle stuffed with bodies since the age of eleven. It was the implication that he was destitute, left over, so much human detritus after the events of the second war that gnawed at his mind, and if he was honest, it infuriated him most because it appeared to be true. Why had so much effort gone into saving his life if he was to be unceremoniously turned out into the street?

The red circle at the top of the page had seemed to indicate Potter’s hand in all of this, and the feeling that had left in him went beyond fury into something far blacker and more complicated. Had the imbecile deliberately created a scenario in which he, Snape, would be forced into Potter’s debt, owing his life and his very shelter to Potter’s goodwill? It could not be tolerated. Impossible.

He’d requested a quill and carefully composed a letter of inquiry to the latter six.

Three had been returned with polite rejections: So sorry, no vacancies; if only you’d applied a week/a day/a year/a lifetime earlier. Two had not been answered at all. And one he had burned immediately, as he could smell the contamination of the paper as soon as it entered the room, tied to the owl’s leg by a much longer string than necessary for a small bit of post. Singed feathers were what he smelled now when the impotence of his situation overwhelmed him. For what had there been left to do but the thing that had clearly been the only option from the start? He had written to Potter and packed his bag.

He had expected Potter’s return owl promptly, but when it had arrived, it had born a message requesting a meeting. A meeting. Not a letter of acceptance or welcome, but a meeting; surely one in which Potter could name the terms of the debt he had manufactured.

If a meeting is what you desire, Mr Potter, Snape had replied, then a meeting you shall have. Perhaps you would care to visit St Mungo’s? I assure you, my schedule is wide open.

Mr Snape, Potter had returned. It seems to me that the outcome of our meeting is a foregone conclusion. It is simply a formality in terms of ironing out the conditions of your lodging. Therefore, there is no need for me to visit you at St Mungo’s. I will expect you at number twelve Grimmauld Place at your earliest convenience.

Snape snorted to himself as he walked. If Potter had written that letter, he would eat the owl that had delivered it. A foregone conclusion? The Potter he had known would have stammered and reddened and finally shouted that he intended to put him up, for Merlin’s sake, there were simply a few rules.

I imagine there are more than a few high profile residents of your… abode. Snape had written in reply. Unless you have foolishly removed the Fidelius Charm from the house, I will need to be apprised of the secret and password before we can, as you say, iron out the conditions.

Potter’s response had frightened him, though it was difficult for him to say why. I think you’ll find things much as you left them. HP.

Was it truly possible that Potter had not changed the enchantments protecting Grimmauld Place?

He rather hoped it was a lie. He’d walked all this way, in fact, clinging to the belief that it was a lie, that he would arrive at Grimmauld Place, tired and lightheaded, to find that number twelve Grimmauld Place did not exist at all, that number eleven sat snugly and implacably beside number thirteen as surely as it would if he were a Squib. He hoped for this because (and he did not delude himself on this point; Snape prided himself on keeping his secrets from others, but being brutally, nearly terrifyingly honest with himself) if Potter had insulted him, if he had brought a convalescent all this way and then refused him, then he could go on hating Potter in relative peace. It would erase all debts and render the balance of power acceptable once more.

Snape turned the corner onto Grimmauld Place, unprepared for how his blood would rush when he saw it. It was not just the heat, or the fact that he’d just walked nearly a kilometer after having undertaken nothing more strenuous than a trip to the loo in months, but the simple fact of number twelve Grimmauld Place, looking as he had never seen it. He had always arrived at headquarters under the cover of night, and though he knew the building, could pick it out easily, he had never known it to look quite so sharp and present. It did not seem to him a relic of an old world that had been decimated and was now clawing its way back to vitality, inch by inch, but a new thing entirely.

He climbed the steps to the front door, but found he could not raise his hand to knock, nor speak the word that he had known as the password. Somehow to stand here, asking admittance to this house, still standing so improbably… to whisper the name Dumbledore in broad daylight… seemed--and then his indignation found him all at once. Well, it seemed exactly as Potter had probably intended for it to seem. He took a step back.

The door opened suddenly, and Snape nearly tumbled down the step behind him in surprise. Harry Potter stood on the landing, looking stringy and disheveled and important.

“Snape,” he said.

“Potter,” Snape said, recovering himself.

“Come in.”

He hesitated for a moment before it became clear that having come all this way with a suitcase in hand, it would simply look foolish for him to refuse, and so he followed Potter into the house.

Walburga Black’s face greeted him immediately as he stepped into the entrance hall. Snape was astounded to see the portrait uncovered, the heavy black curtains tied back. Mrs Black sat in the same high-collared navy robes and cap that she’d worn since death had ensconced her in the portrait, and her posture was as stiff and formal as ever, but her lips were pressed together in a thin white line. She saw him, of that there was no doubt, and her eyes narrowed as he and Potter passed by, but she said nothing.

Potter looked back over his shoulder as if to check that Snape was following along obediently. Snape stood, his head tilted back, staring openly at the portrait.

“Yes, we shut her up at last,” Potter said lightly and then nodded his head toward the sitting room. “Come on, then. You don’t want to get her all worked up.”

Snape could not explain why he felt so discomfited by Walburga’s silence. He certainly had never cared for the old woman, nor taken any pleasure her insults, but she had always seemed to him to be a fundamental part of the house, as essential to it as the plaster of the walls, and it made him feel that everything he had ever understood had changed.

The sitting room, to his relief, was still furnished in threadbare chintz and moldering velvet, but it was infected with life in a way that it had never been as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Books were scattered across the sofa, and two cups of tea sat half-finished upon the coffee table. Potter crossed the room to a wall that had not been there previously and had the markings of hastily thrown up spellwork. He opened a door, and Snape followed him through it.
“Have a seat,” Potter said and seated himself behind a large desk almost totally obscured by clutter. There were towering inboxes and stacks of newspapers, bags of owl treats, and a large, unlikely sculpture of a house-elf sitting off to one side. Potter shoved several piles out of his way.

Snape did not want to sit opposite Potter’s desk. The dynamics already felt completely wrong, and he was furious to find that he’d somehow been called to Potter’s office like a schoolboy. He stood somewhat awkwardly beside a large potted plant and tapped his fingers against a bookshelf.

“Who writes your correspondence?” he asked.

“Er… my correspondence?” Potter replied.

“Your letters, Potter. You can hardly expect me to believe that you use the phrase, ‘at your earliest convenience’ in daily life.”

Potter looked slightly chagrined, and Snape awarded himself a mental point. Three more, and he would allow himself to sit down.

“Erm, yes. Well, Hermione sometimes answers a bit of the mail--”

“Granger is your secretary?” Snape asked.

“What? No! She--well, she runs the Foundation, you see, and she likes to keep involved in all the different--”

“Granger is your secretary,” Snape said and chuckled.

“What--whatever,” Harry said, trying and failing to dismiss this line of questioning. His neck was beginning to turn red.

“Is there something you wished me to sign?” Snape asked. “A promissory note of some kind, perhaps?”

“No! I mean, there’s no charge for living here, Snape. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what, pray tell, is it about? Do you intend to ask for references? Because it seems to me that my last two employers--”

“Stop,” Harry said firmly. “There’s no need… no need for that. Let’s begin again. Please.”

“Whatever you like, Potter,” Snape said, taking the seat opposite Potter’s desk and leaning back.

“There are only two rooms left in the house,” Potter said. “I’m not giving you a choice about which one is yours. There are other residents--six of them, in fact, including myself--and I expect you to be decent to them. This is their home, and they will not be terrorized in it. The same rules will protect you.”

“You anticipate that you will need to protect me from the other residents?”

Potter sighed. “No. I don’t. But the fact remains that there are people out there who are not your biggest fans. I assume that’s why you’re here.”

“What, and not because you bribed some poor St Mungo’s employee to give a list with your name at the top circled in red?”

“You’re mad if you think I was actively trying to get you to live in this house, Snape. I hardly need the extra headaches or the publicity. What I’m trying to tell you is that no one will be welcome in this house that cannot treat you civilly. And I expect you to return that favor. I am keeping you off of the floor of the house that Neville lives in--”

“Heavens be praised,” Snape interrupted dryly, and Harry shot him a dark look.

“--in the hopes that you will have no reason to speak to him at all. Unfortunately, that leaves you on the fourth floor, where the only available room shares a lavatory with another resident’s room.”

“Charming,” Snape said. “And with whom will I have the pleasure of sharing a loo?”

“Hermione,” Harry said.

Snape spared this news hardly a thought, as he was quite caught up in the game of points he was conducting with Potter. “With your secretary!” he exclaimed with mock enthusiasm. “What an honor.”

“Call her my secretary to her face, and I imagine she’ll show you a thing or two about honor,” Potter muttered.

“Beg pardon?”

He began again, more vehemently. “You will not harass her, belittle her, or badger her in any way. No insults. You will not complain about noise. If the plumbing wall affects the acoustics of your room, you will cast your own Silencing Charms. I don’t want to hear about it.”

“I’m sure if I had any complaints, I wouldn’t trouble you with them. Surely, your secretary--”

This appeared to be Potter’s breaking point. His color had been steadily rising, and his voice had reached an untenable volume. He snapped forward suddenly, his hands landing flat upon his desk, sending scraps of parchment flying.

“Do you need me to say it?” he said in a vicious whisper. “Fine. Fine, I’ll say it. Thank you, Snape, for all you did. The war could not have been won and I could not have survived without you, and I know it. But that does not mean that I want to live with you, now or ever. Hermione is the one who offered you a room here and insisted that she could handle living beside you. It was her letter you received because it was Hermione who fought for your inclusion. So show her some respect.”

Snape struggled with this information for a moment--Hermione Granger had been the one to contact St. Mungo’s?-- before settling on a response.

“Oh, I’m certain we’ll be the best of friends,” he said, crossing his legs and smirking slightly. “I’ll invite her round for tea at once.”

Potter looked defeated as he settled back into his chair. “Look--what do you intend to do here, Snape?”

“Do?”

“As in a job. I assume you won’t want to live on the charity of this household forever.”

Snape inwardly flinched at the word, but he parried all the same. “Is the room conditional upon my employment?”

“No,” Potter said wearily. “No. I suppose you could sit up there and knit scarves for house-elves all day if you wanted to. Our bylaws say nothing about your employment. I was just curious--”

“--about how long I intend to remain as your tenant?” Snape arched an eyebrow.

“Yes. How long do you think you’ll be with us?”

“Until Hogwarts reopens,” Snape said at last, his face blank. “Until then, I am just killing time.”

***

Snape knew immediately where he was heading when Potter led him up the staircase to the topmost landing, and it was difficult to hide his shock. Potter had mentioned that he would be on the fourth floor, but he had not associated it to the room he knew sat at the top of the house, the room that had belonged to Sirius Black. Why would Potter give him this room? If he’d been asked, Snape would have ventured to guess that Potter lived in it himself or had preserved it as some sort of shrine.

“Here it is, then,” Potter said, gesturing at the door. He seemed unable or unwilling to look directly at it. “I, um, hope you’ll be comfortable. There’s a weekly chore list inside; I believe you’ve got the library this week.”

Snape said nothing.

“Right. I’ll just be off. Meals are at seven and seven. You know where to find me if you… need anything.”

Snape snorted derisively. “Yes, run along now,” he said.

Potter turned and began to descend the stairs, but Snape remained in the hallway. He would never have said so, but he shared Potter’s reluctance to open the door to the room. Would it be changed? Would he be expected to live among velvet hangings and Quidditch posters? The last time he had entered this room… well, it was difficult to meet that memory head on, as it was colored with the stress of that year, the amber haze of firewhisky, and too many sleepless nights… but he could still remember the nearly suffocating sensation that time had stopped inside that room, that somehow the Blacks had succeeded in freezing their son forever at the age of sixteen, mummifying him inside those walls, imprisoning him there.

He turned the doorknob, expecting to be greeted by a large, ornately carved bed and a picture of a scantily clad Muggle female astride a motorbike, but the room was empty. Well, not empty, but bare in comparison to what had been. The walls were a sedate cream, the moldings a shade lighter. In the corner of the room, there stood a double bed, unadorned by canopy or carving, and beside the door, a desk. In what Snape recalled as a rather large closet, there stood a tiny kitchenette, complete with a two burner stovetop and small refrigerator. Well, that was a relief. At least he would not have to venture into the main part of the house simply to have a cup of tea.
Snape wondered where Harry had stored all of Sirius Black’s belongings. Surely there could be no more use for his Muggle girls or his Quidditch pennants, and yet Snape could not imagine Potter tossing them out. No, they were stored somewhere, as carefully preserved as this room had been. Snape did not know why that image made him shudder.

He had brought little, as there had been little to bring. Inside his suitcase, there were only the things that Minerva had sent over from the castle--two spare teaching robes, a few books, his potions journal--all of it useless. It struck him that he was a man of frighteningly few personal possessions. There had never been any need to own his own sheets or furniture, plates or even books. The castle had provided all he needed since he’d been a child. There had been that one year--but that was all. And he’d had… others… to provide for him then. He turned his mind away from that.

In any case, there would be no need to unpack here; whatever he needed would have to be acquired. He had some money; not a great deal, but perhaps enough to live on until the reopening of the school. He tried to imagine, for a moment, what he would require and found that he had very little idea. Perhaps the brat next door would allow him to glance around her room. That thought led him to the loo.

He had never lived beside a female before, never stepped into one of their secret spaces. He found that he was very much looking forward to seeing exactly what women stored in the toilet, to getting a glimpse of whatever strange rituals they performed there. Of course, Granger was just a schoolgirl--he doubted that she yet had much knowledge of these things herself, but he was interested all the same.

The room itself was spare enough: white with white tile, but there were bursts of color here and there. A basket sat on the countertop filled with tubes and jars of various sizes and descriptions, holding small amounts of colored potions that Snape had never before got to examine. He held one up to the light. Reddish pigments swam in some kind of liquid base. Strange. There was a bright blue bathmat on the floor beside the shower, and the shower itself contained no less than five bottles of what Snape could only assume were shampoos of some kind. Why anyone would need so many was utterly beyond him, and he shook his head and closed the curtain. He opened the cabinet beneath the counter. Inside there was loo paper, extra bottles of the (already copious, so far as he could see) shampoo-like products, and a box of something not immediately identifiable, which he put back, coloring slightly, a moment later.

The small room smelled of her; well, perhaps not of her, he supposed, but of the things in the shower and on the sink. Female things. The air was perfumed slightly with talcum and something floral--peony? Violet? It was a wonderful smell, a nearly edible smell. Snape felt that he would like to put it in his pillows and fall asleep breathing it. Which was, perhaps, the most asinine thing he had thought all day and simply proof that the journey from St. Mungo’s to this dratted house had taken more out of him then he’d thought. Still, he took one of the bottles from the shower and popped open the top. Not it. Nor were any of the other four.

There had been no noise from the adjoining room, nothing to indicate that Granger (or any of the other residents, come to think of it--the place had been surprisingly desolate for a building supposedly housing seven people) was home. He considered it briefly and then tried the door to her room. The knob did not turn, which was both a relief and an annoyance to him. Did she usually lock the door to the bathroom, or had she done so to prevent him from entering her room? As if he had any interest in poking through her things. No, that sort of nonsense was best left to Gryffindors, which was surely why she had suspected him of it. She’d done a fair amount of snooping and thieving herself through the years, if memory served.

Snape returned to his own room feeling slightly out of sorts. He had nothing to unpack, and Granger had ridiculously barred him from her room. He decided to look about the house to see if he could learn who else was living here. Surely all comrades of Potter. He would probably be tripping over Weasleys on the way to dinner. Potter was not above adding his own friends to the mix despite the fact that they all had a proper home to go to and had no business in a home for the displaced to begin with. Granger herself had no right to be here, come to that. She had family. He was occupied with these thoughts when he nearly ran into Pomona Sprout as she descended the stairs. He swallowed his surprise. Pomona Sprout! He’d always thought she’d come from some large pureblooded family, with siblings spread all about the country, owning inns or restaurants or something. Where had he gotten that idea?

Snape knew Potter had said that no one would be welcome in the house that could not treat him civilly, but he was suddenly quite uncomfortable. He had been guaranteed his reception by Potter, he felt. The red circle on the hospital list had told him that, but beyond it, he’d known simply because it was not in Potter’s nature to overlook sacrifice. Harry Potter had never needed a trial to tell him which side Snape had been on, but he was very likely in the minority. He could not imagine how Pomona would receive him now.

“Slumming it, Pomona?” he said, and she nearly fell down the remaining few steps.

She reached the bottom and turned all in one fluid motion that belied her size. “Great Merlin! Severus! I had no idea you’d been released from St Mungo’s!”

“Come now, I’m sure you attended the house meeting on whether I could be tolerated as a resident,” Snape said archly as he followed her to the landing.

Pomona smiled with weary familiarity. “No, no, it doesn’t work like that, you daft young man. Now, come into the kitchen with me and have some tea where I can get a look at you.”

Snape was filled with relief to learn both that Pomona welcomed him and that he had not landed among a group of teenagers pretending at being homeless. And yet, pleased as he was to see a familiar, adult face, he was immediately, as he had always been, reduced to a child himself in her presence. It had been more than odd, it had been damn near impossible, to do what Dumbledore had asked of him so long ago, joining the teaching staff a mere year after leaving school himself. Those he should have counted as colleagues had taught him themselves, and enough time had not then passed to erase the memories of his tempers and detentions from their minds. Pomona Sprout was a kind woman, and they’d known each other more years as fellow instructors than they had as professor and student, and yet Snape always had the vague, disquieting feeling that Pomona meant to pinch his cheeks.

“How long have you been here?” she asked as she bustled between the cabinets.

“Several hours, no more,” Snape replied. “And you?”

“Oh, since… since the final battle, give or take. I went to see Minerva settled in her family home in Derry. I made some condolence visits. But then I had to admit to myself that there was no resting place without Hogwarts, and I came to see Hermione.”

“Everyone speaks of Granger as if she runs the place.”

“Harry runs the actual house,” Pomona said. “And it’s no small job, either. Especially with Argus and Draco. I’m certainly glad it isn’t me. Still, he’s a good boy, and he does a good job of it. And there’s Kreacher to help him.”

“Beg pardon--did you say Argus and Draco?”

“Well, unless Mrs. Norris has had a litter somewhere that we know nothing about, Argus has no family to go to,” she said over her shoulder. Then she put down the mug she’d been holding. “Gracious, that was a dreadful thing to say. I’m sorry I said it.”

“I’ll overlook it,” Snape said dryly, and without waiting for her to respond, he charged ahead to the matter he was truly interested in. “But Draco--you said Draco Malfoy?”

“Forgive me; I forgot that there are things you wouldn’t know,” Pomona said, turning to face him. “Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy were sent to Azkaban. And Malfoy Manor--well, there was a lot of… I don’t even know the word for it. Looting? Vandalism? There were a lot of bad feelings, and people… people did things they would be ashamed of now, I think. In any case, where was Draco to go?”

“Into the home of Harry Potter would not have been my first guess,” Snape said, and Pomona gave him a look that plainly said she wished he did not have to be so petty. He was reminded again of how small she could sometimes make him feel.

“Well, it’s a different world now,” she said. “Are you planning to return to Hogwarts?”

“I’ve exchanged a few owls with Minerva,” Snape said.

“I figured that you would have. Argus will, naturally. I intend to go back myself. The greenhouses are destroyed, of course. It will take years to get them back to the way they were. Maybe longer than my lifetime. Longer than my teaching career will last, certainly. I’d like to go back now and begin working on them, at least during the daylight hours, but they say it’s still too dangerous. In any case, you should start looking for a good apothecary now. I won’t be able to provide you with all I once did.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Snape said. Pomona handed him a steaming cup of Darjeeling. He took a sip. Watery and thin.

“You mentioned that Kreacher is still here,” he said. “If that is the case, why have I been assigned ‘library duty,’ whatever that might mean, and why on earth are you making your own tea?”

“Harry prefers that we stay active, contribute to the household,” Pomona said. “And Hermione is absolutely insistent that Kreacher not be asked to do personal favors for us. She says he’s to keep the house exactly as he would have before we moved in. That means that the extras--the library, the garden, Harry’s office, meals outside of the two he serves--they’re up to us.”

“Could someone please explain to me why Granger has such a say in all of this?” Snape spat. “Potter spoke about her as if she were the reigning queen of everything, and now you tell me that she dictates the behavior of even the house-elves?”

Pomona gave him a rather odd look. “Hermione is the head of the Foundation,” she said.

“And what, pray tell, is the Foundation?”

“You’ll have to ask Hermione for a proper explanation; it’s too complicated by far for me to tell it all. It’s part charity, of course--it provides for the upkeep of this house and one more, so far as I understand it, as well as various other rehabilitation projects. It’s got fingers in Hogwarts and in the Wizengamot, though strictly as a pressure group, you understand. Hermione is quite adamant that she does not work for the Ministry.”

“We’re speaking of Hermione Granger, are we not? An eighteen year old girl without even a complete education to her name, let alone the kind of money that such a thing would take.”

“Severus, I’m not going to defend the Foundation to you. You live under its roof.” Pomona’s tone was short, and although Snape was fairly bursting with indignation and unanswered questions, he let the subject drop. He had nothing to do for the foreseeable future except to tend to a collection of Potter’s schoolbooks and to wheedle information from the other members of the household. He rose to leave.

“Thank you for the tea,” he said stiffly. “I hope our stay here will not be unnecessarily protracted.”

“You know,” Pomona said, turning back to the stove, “it sometimes occurs to me that there are four orphaned children in this house. And they are the only ones not waiting to get back into Hogwarts.”

***

That night, Snape lay upon the mattress in Sirius Black’s old room beneath the plain white sheets that had dressed the bed when he’d arrived. He refused to ask Potter for a blanket, though he was fairly certain they would be provided if he asked. He could purchase his own tomorrow. Still, there was no point in spending a load of Galleons on things that he would not need in only a few (God willing) months. Perhaps he could corner the house-elf and discover where such things were kept.

He slept thinly, as he always did. He was accustomed to waking at the slightest sound because he had often been visited in the middle of the night by his Slytherins to settle disputes and attend to minor curse damage, and he had liked to give them the impression that he never slept. When Granger arrived home, it was after midnight. He could hear the clack of her heels in the entrance hall, and though he tensed, waiting for the portrait’s shrieks, none came. It was very difficult to imagine that Hermione Granger would not be thoroughly loathed by Walburga Black. That she, too, seemed to follow the girl’s orders set Snape’s teeth on edge.

She clattered up the stairs and shuffled about endlessly in front of her own door. Finally, blessedly, she gained entrance and set immediately to rending the air with the wireless. Perhaps he should suggest to her in the morning--respectfully, of course--that there were others in the house trying to sleep, and that perhaps she could keep her musical tastes to herself until after breakfast. He listened intently to the soft sound of her footfalls as she walked back and forth across the room and started when she entered the lavatory that separated his living quarters from hers.

He could hear the sounds of her brushing her teeth, which struck him as bizarrely intimate. He had not heard that sound since his own schooldays, and it seemed strange to be sharing it with a student. He turned onto his side and watched the strip of light that seeped under the door of the loo. From time to time, he could see the shadows of her feet as they passed. She sounded no larger to Snape, no different from the girl he had known to stretch her fingers out full length toward the ceiling, as if the relative height of the hand raised were the ultimate guarantee of being called upon.

He fell asleep to the whisper and hiss of the shower and the soft strains of a Celtic wizard ballad behind it. Though he did not know it, the scent he had so admired filled the air, carried to his room by steam, and he burrowed more deeply beneath the sheet and dreamed.