It took Severus Snape almost a week into teaching at Hogwarts to get over the fact that he could clear a staff common room with remarkable alacrity.
True enough, he'd never been especially popular or gregarious, even in his youth, though that said it wasn't like the Death Eaters were big into pub crawls and cards nights either. (Perhaps Voldemort would have abandoned his prejudice against Muggles had he received a subscription to Baps or spent a boys' weekend up in Blackpool, but Severus doubted that a group of people not competent enough to kill a baby could handle the logistics of a boys' weekend.) But the rate at which his new colleagues would cough politely and excuse themselves to do "massive stacks of corrections and marking" as soon as he'd enter a room was hardly credulous - especially for the first week of the school year.
Severus settled into an over-plump plush armchair, his stomach heavy with a particularly large dinner, and he was almost falling into a postprandial coma when he was gently stirred alert by a soft clearing of the throat at the door.
"Severus. So nice to see you getting a chance to relax after your first week."
He opened an eye, and through the refractions of his blurry vision made out a haze of green and silver. He groaned. "Can I help you, Sybill," he asked in what he hoped was a very unhelpful and reticent tone.
"Oh, no, not possibly, I couldn't expect anyone to assist with this."
As the child of a terrible marriage, Severus spoke passive-aggressive as a second language. "What do you want?"
"It's just..." She plopped herself on the arm of Severus's chair, and he inhaled a mouthful of cheap violet perfume and incense. "Well, you see, I've struggled with my art lately, and the Inner Eye has felt most clouded, what with the stresses of study hall duty every evening--"
"Are you asking me to do your duty for you?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly expect such a sacrifice of your time, not at such a busy time of year, but I simply must have adequate meditation time. How many times I have told the Headmaster, I do not know, but it really is becoming somewhat of an issue."
Severus was an awkward young man not given to knowing social cues or how to politely show disinterest or unwillingness to help. If he were, he might have attempted yawning, or cutting her off with a polite white lie, but he wasn't, so he just stared at her, letting the air hang heavy with awkwardness. (But even if he did have social skills, she didn't have any either, and wouldn't have noticed the cues anyway.)
"It would help me tremendously if someone were to take my duty tonight so I might be able to devote myself more fully to my professional duties."
"Indeed it might. Unfortunately, I have had a long week and am unable to assist."
She pulled away from him, and he saw her pull her shawl around herself with wounded dignity. "Fine. I suppose it isn't a problem."
"Sorry." He wasn't sorry. In fact, given he suspected "professional duties" entailed creating class resources by way of madlibs of plagiarised Witches Weekly horoscopes, he didn't feel the slightest bit guilty.
"I'd have thought you'd have wanted to be more helpful. Most teachers in their first year often want to show how conscientious they are," she sniffed. "Prove how invaluable they can be to their employer."
"My skills speak for themselves. Good night, Sybill."
"I'd have thought you'd try and make it up to me for your rude interruption of my job interview. Remember? When you came barging in?"
His stomach fell. Damn. He looked up at her. She was polishing her thick-lensed glasses on a corner of her shirt, and though she looked quite innocuous, he couldn't tell if she genuinely believed that it's been a rude mistake, or he'd met his match and she was truly a thoroughbred contender in the passive-aggression stakes. "What time does your duty start, Sybill?"
"Fifteen minutes." Her voice was now back to its brittle, floaty norm, and she smiled broadly at him as she swept towards a kettle surrounded by mugs. "I foresaw how helpful you'd be before I descended this evening, Severus, and I am most grateful. Should you ever need any assistance, or guidance, or even a reading, I--"
"That will be highly unnecessary," he sighed, pulling himself out of the armchair. "I'd best leave now."
"What a gem you are, Severus," said Sybill Trelawney as her kettle whistled loudly, covering up the muttered invectives and profanities that Severus spewed forth on his exit.
Severus found the tedium of striding up and down the rows of desks deeply tiring; on the whole, the children were too well-behaved to actually draw his attention, and he found his eyelids growing heavy with each passing minute.
A sixth year girl beside him scratched at a pimple on her cheek, and he realised, to slight horror, that he was no more than four or five years older than most of the students in the room. Passing a window, he stole a look into it: no spots left, thankfully, but he still looked young and underdeveloped, his jaw and cheek bones still delicate and gracile, his facial hair still laughably patchy and straggly. For twenty-one, he still looked immature, and he adjusted his robes indignantly.
"Sir? Can we go when we are done?"
Sir. It would take a while to get used to this. He looked down to see a short, gamine-looking young woman with a Hufflepuff scarf tied around her neck loosely. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'm finished my work, Professor. Can I please head to my dormitory? We have Quidditch practice at dawn, and I'd really like an early night."
"I... I was unaware you needed to ask for permission. Very well, go."
She turned on her heels and was off, and before he could get back into his routine of walking the length of the hall, he was caught off-guard by giggling from three rows away.
He turned his head slightly, and in his peripheral vision caught a pair of Gryffindor seventh years giggling together, conspiring: one of the pair, a blonde who tied her hair back in plaits, was leaning in and whispering to her partner, whose cheeks blushed vermillion. Severus saw the young man steal a look up at him, and he pulled away from the girl, feigning seriousness.
"Is there something you wish to share?"
"I... sorry, just a joke from earlier today." The boy's cheeks remained flushed, and Severus balled his hands into fists inside his robes.
"If you wish to cavort about, you could have stayed up in the Gryffindor common room rather than coming down here to distract your fellow students."
"I'm really sorry," said the girl, looking sincerely abashed. "I was distracting him, I--"
"Enough." He peered down at them, and disgust flooded his mind.
"We weren't even distracting anyone, though," said the young man, whose cheeks now seemed red with anger. "Right now, you yelling at us is more distracting than we ever were."
"A hundred points from Gryffindor."
Severus was instantly aware of seventy sets of eyes watching him. The girl's mouth had fallen open, and he saw tears hanging heavy above her lashes. The boy, however, insolently stood before him, and Severus saw in his dark eyes and arrogant demeanour something which pushed his rage to the next level.
"You can't do that, that's completely ridiculous--"
"Shall I make it more, Mister--"
"Humphries," blurted the young man. "Gerard Humphries, which you'd know if you bloody bothered to learn the names of people in your classes."
Severus turned, and stared down at the students watching the scene unfold. "All of you, back up to your common rooms. Study hall is done for the night. Humphries, you and... what's her name?"
"Kelly Copping," the girl snivelled into her sleeve.
"Both of you with me, to the Headmaster's office, now."
The room cleared quickly, and beckoning the two malfeasance with a harried jerk of his hand, Severus strode out of the hall, his oversized robes dragging along the floor behind him. He could hear the pace of the students behind him: Humphries, walking with heavy, steady steps, and Copping following behind him weightlessly. As they reached the Gargoyle at the bottom of the staircase, he saw Albus Dumbledore approaching from the other end of the hall. "Severus," Dumbledore said genially, "why are these two students out so late? Surely they should still be in study hall, or up in their tower."
"Headmaster, the bold cheek and rudeness of these two--"
"Sir, it's rubbish, honestly. He is such a joke, he took a hundred points off--"
Dumbledore held out a hand, and both Severus and the Gryffindor boy fell silent. "Upstairs," he said, much less genially.
As they climbed the steps, Severus rehearsed what he would say: it would be an open and shut case for sure. Unruly students, unmitigated discourteousness: why, if the little wretches were still even enrolled the next day after his account of the events, he would be shocked.
"Mister Humphries, is it true you were rude to Professor Snape?"
"Well, yeah, but... Sir, he was way out of order, Kelly was just sharing a joke with me, whispered, and he went off his head--"
She nodded quietly; between the hall and Dumbledore's office, she'd cried enough for her cheeks to be red and shiny.
"Headmaster, I insist upon--"
"A moment, Severus: would you care to wait outside the door for five minutes?"
He nodded, confused, then pulled the door shut behind him and sat on the top step, leaning in to catch snatches of muffled conversation. He heard, for a few minutes, the sound of a raised voice, which was soon cut off by an older, softer voice.
He didn't realise in the ensuing drama that his own pulse was racing: his very first week in the profession, and he was dealing with his very first challenge to authority. It was somewhat of a terrible milestone, and he hoped it would be an isolated incident.
The door handle creaked above him, and he stood. Humphries and Copping passed by him, both sober and quiet, and behind them, Dumbledore beckoned to him.
He did so, feeling ten years old again: every time he'd entered this office, under whatever auspices, he'd felt ten.
"Severus, I have sent Mister Humphries and Miss Copping off to bed. They will be writing you a formal written apology, which you will hope to receive tomorrow."
"That will be satisfactory," Severus lied, his hopes deflating.
Dumbledore stared intently at him. "I have reduced the penalty to twenty house points."
"I am not sure what happened tonight, Severus, but I never want to hear of anything like this from you ever again."
"They must have lied--"
"I highly doubt that." Dumbledore leaned forward, his brows furrowing deeply. "You have undermined your own authority tonight far more than those two students ever could have done with what started all this nonsense--"
"Do not interrupt me. Yes, it sounds like young Humphries was rude to you, but in retaliation to your ridiculous overreaction. If you want to succeed as a teacher here, you will need to put aside your emotiveness and previous biases against Gryffindor."
"Is that what you think this is?"
"It's what I know it is."
Severus stewed: right now he wanted to do nothing more than dash the old man's head against the desk. "They were being extremely immature, and if you think--"
"Oh, wake up, Severus. They are teenagers. If quiet flirting is so outrageous to you, I hope you never have to do a late-night patrol into the prefect's bathroom. Young people will be slightly disruptive and exuberant, and silly with the opposite sex, yes. You will need to find ways to deal with that."
"I was never like that."
"And how long did it take Argus Filch to extricate James Potter from that bannister railing you forced him through in fourth year?"
Dumbledore smiled, and pulled a paper bag of sweets out from the top drawer of his desk. "Have one, please."
"I don't want one."
Dumbledore shrugged, and helped himself to a sugar mouse. "Oh, come now. It's your first week. We all do tremendously silly things as young teachers - and I was not immune to that either. Now, do take a sweet, I insist."
Reluctantly, Severus reached over. "Thanks," he muttered ungratefully.
"Now, why were you doing study hall duty in the first place?"
"Because I... Sybill Trelawney asked a favour."
Dumbledore smiled indulgently. "How collegial of you to assist her, Severus. I do ask, however, that you watch for burn-out in your first year."
"Are we friends again, Severus?"
Severus nodded, feeling very unfriendly indeed.
"Splendid. Now - it is getting rather late, and I am sure you will want to be getting to bed. It's the weekend - I hope you spend it doing something relaxing. Leisure time is so precious when you teach: guard it ferociously."
As Severus left the office, he was certain he could hear a soft mumbling from an unfamiliar voice. When he heard Dumbledore respond to the mumbling with "have faith in him yet", he took faith in the knowledge that he wasn't going mad.
The next few days went by unremarkably: indeed, the apologies were duly tended, and there were no major blow-ups. It was all too wonderful.
Save for his colleagues avoiding him assiduously, Severus's job could almost be described as pleasant. Even then, this was hardly the worst thing in the world to an introvert like him, who recharged in solitude. Even his new study duty had become uneventful: those who'd seen his outburst in the first week were truly keen to avoid his wrath further, and kept perfectly silent.
This solitude was broken in his third week, alas, by a squeaky voice in his Potions room.
He heard a stool scraping along the floor, and seconds later, Filius Flitwick was hauling himself up onto it, puffing and out of breath. "Lovely room this one - so big and spacious and airy."
Severus, by now, was used to people only approaching him when they had need of something. "Yes?"
"It's just... well, having Charms down in those dungeons is such a safety risk - you know, poor lighting, moisture, what have you--"
"Yes, those things are so conducive to mixing volatile substances together over high heat in Potions," he replied snidely.
"Dumbledore told you you'd be most reasonable, so I hope you don't need if we could possibly do a little swap?"
"I am afraid I cannot be accommodating," Severus said, folding his arms in what he hoped was a commanding, dominating stance. "It has taken me quite some time to have the room aligned to my specifications."
"Such a shame," said Flitwick airily. "Of course, as a young teacher, you do need our support and understanding as you transfer into the profession and develop an identity."
"I mean, so much has changed since I was a young teacher, of course. I mean, now, young teachers like you even have tattoos and everything--"
Severus gritted his teeth and stared down at his opponent, ceding defeat with a slump of his shoulders. "When do you want my equipment to be gone by?"
"It's not reasonable! How am I expected to work under these conditions?"
Dumbledore sighed, and dipped his hand back into the (by now) crumpled paper lolly bag. "Severus, these are things you will get used to as a young teacher. It's all about being willing to compromise with your colleagues. No teacher ever got the classroom of their dreams in their first few years of teaching: Armando even placed me in a decommissioned ladies' toilet for my first few years of Transfiguration. Look at it as a rite of passage that all great teachers go through."
"Yes, but they hate me."
"Oh, I'm sure they don't hate you. Hate is such a strong word."
"Well, they don't trust me, that's for certain. Professor McGonagall - when she passes me, she always has her eyebrows raised, like she's expecting me to hex her--"
"That's just her neutral expression."
"And Peeves - he's taken to singing a song about me every time he floats into my room! I demand he is removed."
Dumbledore chewed thoughtfully on his sweet, then swallowed it. "Is it a different song to the one he made up about you in your fifth year?"
"Somewhat. He's adapted it to rhyme Death Eater with whiny cheater."
Dumbledore nodded. "That scans quite poorly. He is losing his knack, old Peeves."
"Are you even listening to me? I should never have taken this job! My colleagues refuse to talk to me, and even some of the students are starting to make comments."
"Give them time, Severus. You were a known Death Eater, and right now our community is full of people who are rebuilding their lives and families after what the Death Eaters did to them. You must have some patience and empathy."
"If I am not given a chance to prove myself--"
"I never said it would be easy." Dumbledore stood, and motioned to his office door. "Perhaps you ought initiate conversation with your colleagues. Initiate conversation. Keep it light: families, the weather, Quidditch."
"You want me to make small talk?"
"I am ordering you to make small talk."
This time, the voices didn't even bother to be polite enough to keep the volume down upon his exit: this time, he could have sworn he distinctly heard someone say "is that little knob going to carry on like this for the rest of his life?"
"Here's to hoping he doesn't," said Dumbledore, pulling a bottle of Ogden's Firewhiskey out from under his desk before the door closed shut on Severus.
It took Severus another two weeks before he had an opportunity to practice his small talk - what, with the room clearing and all. Although, to be fair, people weren't really leaving whenever they saw him come in: by now, they politely ignored him, offering a weak grunted 'hi' if he passed by close enough to merit comment, but for the largest part, they left him be. Like he was a smelly yet well-behaved dog, or a benign growth.
He finally got his chance shortly after Halloween, on an unusually chilly Sunday afternoon in the common room. Most of the teachers preferred to work in their classrooms or private lodgings, but some chose to sit by the fire, piles of marking banked up beside them.
He saw Charity Burbage fidgeting with the kettle and a little metal tea-leaf strainer. Surely she would be pleasant and friendly, he thought to himself. She teaches Muggle Studies, for crying out loud. Her mug has a picture of a cat on it with the words 'hang in there, baby!'. She'd stop for brief, professional dialogue with me.
He cleared his throat in what he hoped was a manful, hearty way. She looked up from the counter. "Am I taking up too much room? Would you like me to put some hot water in the kettle for you?"
"Yes, thank you."
She smiled nervously, and budged over. Severus didn't even drink tea or coffee, and he stole the plainest looking mug he could find from the pile, hoping its owner wouldn't return while he was there. "Lovely weather we are having at the moment?"
This was a terrible opener, and he was aware of it: true to form for Scotland, it had been drizzly and dour for weeks now, and only that morning it had bucketed down so heavily the Quidditch pitch had been nearly washed away.
Fortunately, Charity seemed to be far more socially adept than him. "I'm sure Pomona will be grateful for some decent rain for once. It always threatens to rain, but it never does."
There was an awkward pause. She looked up at him, a jug of milk in her hands. "Do you have yours white?"
"Oh? Yes, of course."
"So, how are you getting along so far, Severus? Are the kids giving you hell?"
He realised that he'd relinquished control of the conversation to her: this was not entirely a terrible thing. "It is going sufficiently well, I think. It is getting easier with every day."
"I am sure it won't take you long until you find your stride,"she said gently. "I was nervous as anything my first year. Now, four years later, I find things much easier."
"I'm relieved to hear that. It hasn't been the easiest."
"It gets better. It really does." She handed him his mug, which he hadn't even realised he'd forgotten about. "I didn't put sugar in yours - is that all right?"
"No, that will be fine."
She smiled. "If you ever have any worries, you can come talk to me - it wasn't so long ago for me that I was in your shoes."
"Of course." He sipped his tea, realising it was actually quite nicely made. "So: Muggle Studies? I never studied that in school myself."
She looked oddly at him. "No, I don't imagine you would have."
He was unsure where the emphasis fell in that sentence. "So - er - what does one learn in Muggle Studies?"
"Well... about Muggles, I guess."
"Yes, but what does that entail you teaching them?"
Charity took a seat at a dining table laden with papers, and sipped thoughtfully. "Well, I suppose I start off very accessibly in the third year course: we look at Muggle pop culture, food, holidays. You know. By the end of seventh year, they understand various models of government, scientific innovation, religious beliefs. It is quite a fascinating course. I mean, some say it's an easy option compared to other subjects like Potions, but really, the pay off is a better cultural understanding between our community and the world around us."
Severus, who'd lived with a Muggle father, privately struggled to understand why on earth anyone would want to understand them better; but because he'd committed to being a less-shit colleague, he didn't mention this. (I ought tell Dumblefore that I made it through an entire conversation without insulting someone, he thought to himself, almost proudly.) "So: your family, are they Muggles too?"
He saw her fumble with her cup, and her face paled. "I... why do you ask?"
"I just wondered if it's how you got your interest in the subject," he blurted. "Do they help you with your course planning?"
"My mother's side--"
"--and my parents were tortured and killed for it during the war."
Severus, as a gawky and unpopular young man, had endured many awkward silences in his life, but the awkward silence that followed after Charity Burbage's admission would have easily placed in the top three. It was only when she gathered her belongings hastily and walked away quickly with the world's most insincere "it was lovely chatting to you" that this silence was broken.
"For heaven's sake," said Dumbledore, weary and impatient, "I give you one job. One job. Could you, for once, make it through a single week without offending - or being mortally offended by - anyone else?"
"This is not my fault, and you know it! All I was doing yesterday was trying to make pleasant conversation - like you told me to do. I was going to tell her that my father was a Muggle--"
"Severus, how could you have not seen that your past affiliation might colour any conversation? You must be sensible in your conversation topics. People are still licking their wounds."
"That is not my problem, Headmaster."
Dumbledore looked at him incredulously: in fact, Severus was unpleasantly aware of the fact that there were now a dozen figures in portraits who were not even pretending to sleep any more who were matching Dumbledore's incredulousness. "Nobody forced you to join the Death Eaters, Severus. Not then. Unlike many, you haven't got the Imperius curse or torture or extortion to excuse your actions. And while I have the capacity to forgive you it is because I didn't lose close family to Voldemort. Others are not in my position."
"You forget that I left. Willingly." Severus banged his hand down on the desk, and even Fawkes - half-bald and semi-comatose - looked up at him with annoyance. "I took a monumental risk to do so."
"Then you ought to tell everyone why you left the fold. Go on. I will wait up here. That is your achievement to announce."
For a few minutes, neither man spoke: Severus drummed his fingers with increasing crescendo and force on the desk, and Dumbledore patiently watched him, tiredly waiting a response.
Severus knew he was right: admit his rationale and announce to a waiting crowd of Voldemort sympathisers that he was a double agent, and he would be signing his own death warrant. Worse, he might look incredibly pathetic to everyone else. "Very well. But I don't see why I should be getting walked over, or ignored, or bullied into giving up my evenings, or my classroom, or--"
"You might have to - as the young people are so fond of saying - suck it up until you have established your trustworthiness."
"I've had it, Headmaster. I'm not doing any more duties, I'm not doing any more favours--"
"Yes," sighed Dumbledore, "put your foot down. That will endear you so well to your colleagues, whose good will you are finding it hard to earn presently."
"You'd better believe I intend to," Severus said as he stormed from the office, ignoring the bottle of Firewhiskey that Dumbledore had already started serving himself from, and ignoring the fact that it was only nine in the morning.
Severus Snape was going to regain control of his life, reputation and friendships be damned. No more meekly being bullied out of his entitlements or spare time. No more accepting passive-aggression and thinly-veiled threats. No more friendly chats with colleagues, cat mugs or no cat mugs.
He was Severus Snape, king of the bastards, heir to a great line of bastards that started many generations before Tobias Snape could ever make claim to being the greatest bastard alive by drinking away an entire week's wage; a line of bastards only bolstered by the bastardly qualities of the Prince family bloodline.
And all who met him would respect his terrible presence and wet themselves rather than so much as daring to ask to borrow his leftover Daily Prophet, such was his bastardry would be known through the land.
On his way up to the North Tower, he rehearsed his lines over and over again, and he pulled his shoulders back and puffed his chest out - which he ceased to do upon catching his reflection in the mirror and seeing how this only emphasised his bony, concave chest. He would be fierce and unrelenting. He would steamroll this silly, fraudulent woo-pedlar of a woman with logic, and with reason, and if worst came to worst, he could just make fun of her stupid Inner Eye.
As he reached the top of the stairs (puffing, annoyed that despite being underweight he was still dreadfully unfit and much as he hated to admit it in need of some cardiovascular fitness) he didn't even hesitate before pulling the trapdoor down - not caring whether she might be in there or not. He stomped up the pull-down ladder, but stopped right before they reached the top upon hearing a soft, male voice.
"--effective as of forty-eight hours from now. I take it that the property in question is in the process of being liquidated?"
"I have put it up for sale, yes. Such a hassle, so soon after buying it."
Severus paused: he was not surprised at the irony of a Seer having poor real estate forecasting, but he was surprised at her tone of voice: not wavering and histrionic, nor snappy and brutal, but soft and defeated, devoid of melody and emotional colour. He held his breath, listening intently.
"Now, as for any legal name changes you wish to make upon signing the--"
"Oh, you won't need to worry about that," Trelawney mused sadly. "In fact, I think you'll find that's part of why you are here tonight."
"Very well. Then if you'll sign here..."
For the second time in his life, Severus found himself deeply regretting barging in on one of Sybill Trelawney's private moments, and just as quickly as he climbed the ladder, so too was his descent rapid - though softer, so as not to arouse suspicion. He had to leap with force to shut the trap door behind him, and he quickly ducked around the corner.
Moments later, the trapdoor opened again, and from it descended a short, drably dressed man in brown robes who was fussing with a bundle of papers. He barely gave Severus a moment's glance as he walked down the corridor and out into the entrance hall.
Severus approached the opening to the room again, and against all of his usual senses to avoid people (especially the highly emotional ones) at all costs, climbed the ladder.
Emerging into Sybill Trelawney's room, he was overcome with how warm it was: the air was so stultifying he almost lost consciousness in the first few seconds. He wondered how Trelawney - sitting at her desk, staring at the papers in front of her - could possibly get any work done.
She looked up at him. He was relieved that she wasn't teary, but the blankness and deadness in her eyes was mildly concerning. "Why are you up here?"
"I... can I pour you a drink?"
Years of a bad marriage, coupled with his father dying young after a life of poor living, had trained Severus in the art of recognising when his mother needed a drink. As a reaction to Trelawney, it came naturally.
"Of course," she said in a distracted voice. "There's sherry on the bookshelf.
There was, indeed, a lot of sherry on the bookshelf: the nasty, cheap stuff one bought from a Muggle supermarket for cooking with. But it couldn't have been any worse than the cheap gin his mother drank, and after summoning a couple of glasses, poured one for himself also. He offered it to her, and she nodded in thanks.
In his mind, he noted how thoroughly absurd the scene was superficially, and yet - he realised, wincing with every mouthful of this horrible stuff that was so potent it could kill every microbe in his mouth - he realised how depressing it was that the only person who was giving Sybill Trelawney any attention or companionship would be the most loathed person in Hogwarts. And even sadder, that had he not burst in there, itching for a fight, it could have been nobody.
"It's funny," Trelawney said, downing her drink in one go and reaching for a top-up, "how even the Inner Eye couldn't see that one coming."
"Perhaps the Inner Eye is more optimistic of the progressiveness of men than it ought be."
"Not all men, of course, but--"
Talking about marital woes with Sybill Trelawney was so horrific and abstract a concept that it never even entered into his top list of terrors before it happened, and yet, she was not hurrying away from him, or answering curtly, and he found himself - well, not enjoying the process, but appreciating it certainly.
"Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"
Flashes of his previous intent - to burst into her room, to declare his intention to never do another single solitary night of Trelawney's study duty again - now seemed petty. And - knowing he would regret this deeply later - he replied, sighing, with "absolutely nothing."
She nodded. "I'd best see Dumbledore, I will need to arrange for some time off to go into London to see our accounts close."
"If you require a cover for your classes, be sure to let Dumbledore know I will be available to do those."
She finished her second sherry, and stood. She smiled at him - shakily, nervously - and nodded. "Severus, this is very generous--"
"It's nothing," he blurted ungraciously. "Just tell him to arrange for it."
And with that, they left her room: her turning left at the end of the corridor, and him walking straight through. The air outside was cool and refreshing, yet the sherry was enough to warm him slightly as he made his way down to the Slytherin dungeons.
Severus Snape could no longer claim the title of king of the bastards. Not even duke of the bastards, or viceroy, or junior Vice President of the bastards. And he was fine with that.
All the same, he hoped that word of this wouldn't get around to either his students or his colleagues.