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Killing Time

Chapter Text

Snape woke to the muffled whisper of paper sliding under the door. It was quite early, and whoever had done the sliding did not knock or call out to him, and so Snape remained in bed until the sound of footsteps had retreated down the stairs. Then he swung his feet onto the cool wooden floor, padded to the door, and studied the paper. It was Malfoy’s completed drawing.

It was done on thick parchment, and the boy had drawn a complicated and heavily inked border on it, framing the Augurey in the center. It was a fair representation--Snape had seen Augureys that did not look quite so bedraggled, but he supposed that he had not asked Malfoy for an ideal Augurey, nor did he suppose that such a specimen would have been appropriate.

The tear at the corner of the bird’s eye seemed almost to glisten, and Snape wondered if Malfoy had not impregnated that part of the canvas with some sort of spell. The tear swelled to great proportion but never fell. Beneath the drawing, Malfoy had inked the words The Augurey.

It was good, Snape thought. Not quite so regal as those Malfoy had drawn for Granger’s Hogwarts proposal, but true, somehow, to the spirit of the project, and Snape conceded grudgingly (in his own mind, if nowhere else) that Malfoy had some talent.

Part of him wanted to take the drawing downstairs and hang it in the dining room, for although he had bought the thing for Granger, now that he had it in his hands, it seemed to be something that the others would enjoy. However, the rest of them had not recently suffered such a crushing setback, and Snape hoped that this gift might be better received than the Phoenix Flower had been.

Still, she was resilient; he had to give her that, and she needed no gifts to console her. In the weeks that followed the Board of Governors’ rejection, Granger had managed to organize a census of all house-elves currently living in Britain and a fact-finding committee on domestic violence inflicted on said elves, as well as looking into the purchase of another house outside London that might be used as a safe-house of sorts for those that ran from their families. She was drafting a proposal to the Wizengamot that would create laws to protect the elves from family violence, and at night, she often talked to him about the possibility of creating a cottage industry of elf-made goods--some way to employ those who no longer had families without resorting to dropping them off at Hogwarts. Snape found he enjoyed these discussions, particularly when Kreacher was present, as he always twisted his hands together with a sour expression on his face and made a low, muttering sound in his throat.

Just once, Snape had asked Kreacher if he had something to add to the conversation, as he was obviously listening to it.

“Kreacher is unhappy for elves that is not having a history,” he had said. “To make things with elf skill is good, but those elves is not having a home. They is not knowing where they come from.”

“Can’t you know where you come from and still go someplace else?” Granger had asked him, but Kreacher had made no reply.

All in all, after her initial disappointment, Granger dashed off to her meetings with her customary enthusiasm, robes flapping behind her, rolls of parchment hugged to her chest. There were nights that Snape saw her Hogwarts files opened on her desk, and he knew that she often thought of her plans, but he did not know how to ask her what they meant to her now, or what she intended to do with them.

For his own part, Snape was enjoying brewing again. He was surprised at how much pleasure he took in the swirling changes in a cauldron, the sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, scent of a potion taking shape. He’d brewed three variations on the Poltergeist Repelling Potion, just for the challenge of it, and when he was finished, he’d felt oddly disappointed. Subsequently, he brewed a nutritive potion for Longbottom’s succulents, several attempts at Granger’s perfume (he certainly did not tell her he was doing so, but considered it, privately, an exercise in breaking down the scent), and two cauldrons of Pepperup for general household consumption.

He decided on the spur of the moment, after tucking the drawing into his desk drawer, that he would like his own potioning supplies. Potter’s potions kit was less than satisfactory for complex brewing. Besides, he hadn’t had a cauldron of his own since his school days, and although the quality and number of those at Hogwarts were undeniable, it still seemed to him that it would be satisfying to have decent tools to work with until such time as he returned there. He set out for Slug and Jiggers feeling almost excited at the prospect of sorting through the various materials and choosing the ones that would suit him.

***

Snape stood knee deep in stacks of cauldrons. He had narrowed it down to two. One was a pewter size nine with a copper bottom, and one was a lead size two, not much bigger than the one he’d used a first-year. He knew that the pewter was the more practical of the two. He could brew larger quantities in it, and the copper bottom would allow him better control of the heat, which as he had been so pleased to point out to Potter, yielded better results. But something about the lead one appealed to him. Perhaps because the very material it was made from spoke of the danger of the potions that would be brewed in it, or because its size seemed to rule out large batches of common potions and instead suggest small, experimental brews… perhaps because of the challenge that working with a small but thick cauldron presented, the delicate balance of the heat… Snape only knew that he wanted it. He surveyed the other items that he had chosen, which hovered behind him in a quivering group: a set of crystal phials; four silver knives--large, small, blunt-nosed, serrated; a pair of elbow-length dragonhide gloves; two decanters, one glass, one crystal; a pair of goggles; and a potioneer’s apron. If he gave up the gloves and retrieved his graphornhide ones from Longbottom (they were far more protective, anyway), he might purchase both. He tucked the smaller cauldron into the larger and sent the gloves away with a flick of his wand. It would be slightly more than he had intended to spend, but these were quality materials, he told himself. He’d still be brewing in these cauldrons when he was eighty.

Snape raised his wand, intending to Levitate the cauldrons, along with the rest of his purchases, to the counter, when an owl swooped into the room and landed on the shelf in front of him, flapping its wings importantly. It was a Hogwarts owl; Snape could tell by its features, and for one nonsensical moment, he was certain that it had come with some distressing news about Granger. The words ‘but she hasn’t been there in weeks’ rose to his lips, and then he saw the envelope the owl bore.

Severus Snape
Aisle Five
Slug and Jiggers
Diagon Alley, London

It was a Hogwarts letter--a true Hogwarts letter, because it bore the charm that would find its recipient anywhere, and it meant they were calling him home. He took the letter from the owl’s beak gingerly.

“Thank you,” he said formally. “I regret that I have nothing to give you in return.” The owl nipped his finger for his trouble and took off out of the shop. Snape held the letter in his hands for a few moments before he tore it open.

On a familiar piece of parchment bearing the Hogwarts seal were the words:

Professor Snape,

I am delighted to inform you that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will reopen for the 1999-2000 school year. School will begin on September the first, as is traditional, but all staff are asked to report back to the school beginning April the tenth. I expect that everyone will need time to settle in, recreate their classrooms and living spaces, and adjust their curricula as necessary to suit this post-war world. Please plan to attend an informational meeting Saturday, 10 April at two pm in the Great Hall. I look forward to seeing you very soon.

Sincerely,

 

Minerva McGonagall
Headmistress, Hogwarts School

Snape let his purchases drift to the floor. His mind was curiously blank after reading these words. His heart did not quicken with excitement or dread, and his hands did not tremble as he carefully removed the lead cauldron from inside the pewter one.

The heft of it in his hand was as pleasing as it had been, but Snape no longer thought about the potions he might attempt in it as he set it back on the shelf. This and everything strewn behind him had just become superfluous. Hogwarts had all the brewing supplies he could ever need, and he would be back there in nearly two months time. To purchase these would be wasteful. Ridiculous. He fingered the delicate crystal wall of a phial. Why on earth did he still want them? Would he, when they were in use beside the rest, even recognize the ones that were ‘his?’ And what possible difference would it make if he did?

Snape took a step back from his would-be purchases. Surely the clerks could return them to their proper shelves; that was, after all, what they were paid for, and Snape was suddenly certain that if he touched even one of those items again, he would be unable to leave the shop without them.

***

The house looked peculiar to Snape as he reentered it, empty-handed. Granger had long since removed the mounted heads of house-elves past from the hallway walls, but the wallpaper where they had hung was several shades brighter than that surrounding it, leaving a number of long-eared silhouettes on the wall. Had she ever noticed? Come to that, had he?

Walburga Black looked out had him from her portrait, her eyes filled with mute, angry disdain. This is what comes of letting in your sort, she seemed to say, and Snape took in the house as if through her eyes. He saw the carpet runners, threadbare with age, yes, but dusty with use; the coffee table piled high with books and abandoned cups of tea that surely bespoke Longbottom, as Kreacher would have attended to them at once had they been Potter’s. He saw his ‘library’ in his mind’s eye--little more than a few shelves of books with far too many gaps in between--and the garden, which was not even magical.

He entered the kitchen. Pomona sat alone at the table with her own letter and a cup of her abominable tea. He was about to withdraw again--he had no interest in making conversation at the moment--when she saw him and motioned him over.

“I imagine you got yours today as well,” she said.

“I did.”

“Mine came while I was in the shower,” Pomona said with a chuckle. “’Pomona Sprout, 1st bathroom on the left, 2nd Floor, 12 Grimmauld Place, London’. I’d forgotten that charm. It was many years ago that I saw it last.”

“I was at home when my first one arrived,” Snape said. “It simply came addressed to the house.”

“Too bad,” she replied. “There’s something wonderful about knowing that you’ve been noticed, even if it is only by a charm. You missed out on one of the great Hogwarts experiences.”

“Yes, well, I think I’ve had enough Hogwarts experiences in the intervening years to make up for it,” he said.

“You have,” she said. She looked at him searchingly. “But it is strange to me… how much time you’ve spent at Hogwarts, and yet you have never seemed to belong there.”

Snape stiffened. “I am sure I do not need you to point out where I have not belonged.”

“Oh, don’t take offense, Severus,” she said, shaking her head as if his feelings were a minor matter. “How could you fit in among us? Where were your contemporaries? Though it was never just a matter of your age. The men of the staff are all part goblin, giant or ghost, and the rest of us a bunch of frumpy old women.”

“There was Dumbledore,” Snape said.

“Dumbledore was a man who had no contemporaries.”

Snape pursed his lips.

“Do not take that as a reprimand,” Pomona said. “It was not meant as one. In fact, I think that he trusted you the most, in his way.”

“I do not think that trusting me to kill him was indicative of his fond regard.”

Pomona shook her head and looked into her teacup. “Someday, I hope that you will learn to accept my words in the spirit in which they are meant. I think you were the only person that he thought strong enough to survive such an experience intact.”

Snape huffed. “Intact?

“I was not referring to your survival, although yes, that. I meant--look around you. A man irreparably broken could not have created what you have here.”

A prickly hot blush rose out of his collar to assault his ears. Was she, by God, referring to his relationship with Granger?

“The garden, the greenhouse, the library. As I understand it, you’ve been turning the basement into a laboratory! And everyone knows how much you helped Hermione to prepare her proposal. You could not have given so much of yourself to this house, to its residents, if you had fractured your soul.”

Snape was silent. It had been his worst fear since the moment that Dumbledore had made his request, a fear so all-pervading that he could never look at it directly, nor ask himself afterward if such a thing had come to pass. A torn soul. The inability ever to be truly human again. When had he stopped carrying that fear around? In St Mungo’s, when he had woken, confused and in pain, but fundamentally himself, fundamentally still alive after the war, after all, at last, had been done? Perhaps. Or perhaps it had been subsumed by household chores and arguments and the feel of Granger’s skin. But Pomona’s words, it seemed, made an end to that particular fear. He had not stopped in that moment, long ago on the Astronomy Tower. He had not splintered away and ended. He was intact.

“Mmm,” was all he managed.

“Truth be told, Severus, strange as it is, I can better picture Hogwarts without you than this house without you.”

“I thank you for your enthusiasm over my return to the teaching staff.”

“Again, in the spirit. And do you even want to go back? You hardly seem overjoyed at the prospect.”

“Are you?”

“I am, Severus,” she said quietly. “It is all I have wanted since the moment the war ended. To go home. To go back to teaching children, to my plants. It is my life.”

Was there something wrong with him, he wondered, that he did not feel the same? When he thought of Hogwarts, he thought of the things he loved, yes. The majesty of the Great Hall, the solitude of his rooms, the way the light hit the stacks in the library in the evenings. But he also thought of the endless piles of marking, the danger that the students would insist on putting themselves (and him) into in the classroom, the relentless monotony of it: teaching the same lessons at the same hours to what seemed the same students, year after year.

“Do you?” Pomona said, starling him from his thoughts.

“Do I what?”

“Do you want to go back?”

The question was far too complicated to be answered with a simple yes or no, Snape felt. A reprieve from the suffocating newness this strange post-war world would be pleasant. But once he was back at Hogwarts, once things had returned to the way they always were...?

“No,” he said, startling himself. He hadn’t intended to answer her question at all. “No, I do not. I have been at Hogwarts nearly twenty-six years, and that seems quite enough. But my circumstances are not so different than they were when I joined the teaching staff. I have no where else to go.”

“Rubbish,” Pomona said after a moment.

“I beg your pardon?”

“That’s rubbish, Severus. I’ll accept that you had no where else to go when you arrived here. But the situation has hardly remained static. No, now you have… here.”

“Here? And live on Potter’s charity ad infinitum? That is not an option.”

“Harry’s job is available, as I recall,” Pomona said, and Snape stood abruptly. She was absolutely crossing a line. Potter’s job? It was one thing to admit that he was not pleased about returning to Hogwarts and taking up life exactly as he’d left it, and another thing entirely to suggest that he take a job that wasn’t even really a job--just a glorified way to kill time until real life began.

“Spare me the meddling. I do not recall coming to you for career advice,” he said, and swept from the room, nearly overturning his chair in his haste.

***

Snape looked around his room. It was not smart or stylish, he thought. He had never mastered choosing things that went together, and the rug that Draco had bought for him still stood out oddly against the cream colored walls and white sheets. In fact, he thought, everything in here but the rug was aggressively neutral. There was absolutely no need to feel attached to a plain white set of dishware that he’d paid less for than a pair of Muggle denims. The china at Hogwarts was far lovelier, or he guessed that it was, as he had no real system by which to judge the beauty of china. His room at Hogwarts had had ancient stone walls and ornate sconces and Persian rugs that had once flown across countries before they had been disenchanted. His laboratory had been filled with supplies and his bookshelves with books. And if none of it had exactly been his… well, he had found a way to tell himself that it didn’t matter. Who else would ever live in those rooms? Those things may as well have been his. And yet, at this moment, those things felt like a costume to him, like something that he put on and claimed that it was his life.

Granger was home. He could hear her arriving. He could picture the disarray of her desk, her handbag thrown on top of it, the way she would sit on her own patchwork quilt on top of her own bed to remove her own gray heels. He heard her knock, and he knocked in return.

“I do not want Potter’s job,” he said to Granger as soon as she walked into the room.

“No, I didn’t suppose that you did,” she said, taking a step back and looking at him as if he’d gone mad.

“Well, I just thought you should know, in case you had put that ridiculous notion in Pomona’s head.”

“Severus, I’m afraid you’re going to need to back up. Why would Pomona suggest that you take Harry’s job?”

“Because our Hogwarts letters arrived today,” he said irritably. Was it too much to ask that she stay on top of these things? For Merlin’s sake, the woman knew what sort of stones they had used in the reconstruction.

“Oh,” she said. “I see. When do you return?”

Snape searched her face. She truly hadn’t known, then. It was possible that he hoped for a small measure of disappointment on her part, but her features were neutral.

“April the tenth.”

“And I take it you’re not happy about this?”

“Why shouldn’t I be happy about it?”

She pursed her lips. “I don’t know. Maybe because you are stalking around like an angry cat and Pomona is suggesting other jobs for you? Why, again, are we arguing? I just got here, and I feel I’ve missed out on my end of this discussion.”

Snape turned away and pretended to be interested in something on his desk. Unfortunately, there was nothing in particular on his desk, and so he moved a quill back and forth over his blotter.

He could feel her take a step forward, although she was still not near enough to touch him.

“If you are feeling conflicted because of us, don’t be. This isn’t based on… proximity… Severus.”

He could not reply. There was no way to express his relief without making it seem as if his confusion were based on the status of their relationship, which is was not.

“It’s not as if I can’t come there, and you will always be welcome here. I don’t choose my partners based on their connection to the loo.”

“It’s not about that,” he said.

“Then what is it about?”

“I have spent my entire life there. Teaching is the only job that I have ever known,” he said.

“Yes, I know.”

“I didn’t choose it. I didn’t hope, one day, to come back to Hogwarts and teach. I had no interest in it whatsoever,” he said.

“I know that, too,” she said.

He winced. There was something uncomfortable to him in how much she had either intuited or discovered about his obligations, about his life at Hogwarts. It was not exactly that he would refuse to share those things with her, or that he had never imagined telling her how he had come to be there--only that it amounted to more than a set of facts. Snape had no language for this. How did you explain that you could love a place and hate it, too? That you could love a place and never want to return there?

“It is not just the teaching,” he said. “Hogwarts is a way of life. There is more attendant rubbish than you could ever imagine.”

She came to stand beside him, then, and laid a hand on his arm. “I know nothing about jobs that take over your life, of course,” she said smiling slightly.

“You chose this,” he said.

“I did. I’m not complaining.”

“That was not my implication,” Snape said. “I only meant that--”

“I see what you meant. Have you known all along? That you didn’t want to go back, I mean?”

Snape sighed. How could he answer that question? Had he known from the moment that he first wanted something of his own, even if it was something as inconsequential as a towel? Or had it begun the day he decided on the Bonefolder and Quire method for the library, the day he began brewing again, or only this morning, when a paper had slid under his door? He withdrew Malfoy’s house mascot from his drawer and laid it on the desk. “This was delivered this morning.”

She reached out and centered the drawing in front of her. “Oh! It’s just like--”

“It was meant to be. I bought it as a gift for you.”

She studied it in silence for a time. “It’s a good representation,” she said at last.

“I thought so, too.”

“What does it mean?” she asked. “What are you saying?”

He looked at her measuringly. It was interesting to him that he did not feel as if she were fishing for compliments or playing at being foolish. He was certain that she was already drawing her own impressions, but it was as if she were avoiding leaping at the nearest answer.

“I meant to tell you that you had succeeded. That it does not matter what the Hogwarts Board of Governors thinks; your plans and your hopes were well founded. It is possible to take seven people of varying age, blood status and temperament and make from them… a house.”

She looked down, and Snape had the distinct impression that she was gathering herself.

“Do you not see what a hand you had in it?” she asked.

“What?” This had been meant as a gift for her--a gift! He’d meant to compliment her, for Merlin’s sake, and now she was upset--had somehow gotten the idea that he was trying to claim a part of her success?

“Do you know that Neville is drafting an application to Hogwarts as a grower?”

Snape was utterly flummoxed--what on earth did this have to do with him?

“And Filch--you heard him at Christmas--said he wouldn’t even go back if your potions failed him. Which they won’t, of course,” she said. “This house--which had nearly nothing when you got here--now boasts a library, a garden, a greenhouse and a makeshift potions laboratory.”

“Are you accusing me of trying to recreate Hogwarts in this house?”

“No!” she said, throwing up her hands in frustration. She shook her head almost angrily. “Sometimes you are the most infuriating person I have ever known. I am saying that you made this place more than a set of walls for people who had no walls. Severus, you took the things that were home to you--books and potions--and made them a working part of this house. And the things that are home to others--you supported them. How many nights have I said to you that what I want is not a place where people or elves end up? This house is not a dead end anymore. There are things to be gained here.”

“Yes, and then it is time to move on, I suppose. As Potter is doing. And those for whom Hogwarts has reopened its doors,” he said.

She spoke slowly, as if she were choosing her words very carefully. “For someone like Harry, it is time to move on. And for those who are eager to return to their homes, I am glad that we provided a safe place to be until that could happen. But I don’t think… I don’t think going backward is moving on.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Why do you want me to talk you into this, Severus? You’re perfectly capable of making your own decision. If you want to return to Hogwarts, I will support you. If you want to remain here and create some kind of rehabilitation program, I will support you. It’s not my job to argue you into one position or another.”

No, he thought, it was not her job to tell him what he wanted his life to be. The time for all of that had passed long ago. Snape sat down in his desk chair and ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “I have been told that my teaching is more effective outside the classroom,” he said somewhat ruefully.

She leaned against the desk and laughed. “If Neville is any indication, I would say that is an understatement.”

“I would like to see the laboratory become more than just makeshift,” he said.

“If you took Harry’s position, you would have access to the house budget, and you could allocate those Galleons wherever you saw fit,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be like Potter.”

“No. I would never expect you to be.”

Snape nodded. He pulled the drawing toward him and watched the tear swell. Granger’s hand closed over his.

“It’s just--this is home now,” he said, and she nodded.

“I know.”