As I walk along the road from Hogsmeade up to the castle, I'm finding it hard to believe that almost a year has gone by since I was last here. There are other people on the road this time, but I'm staying off to the side. I don't really feel like talking to anyone, although I guess that's inevitable given what every one's coming back to celebrate.
I've changed my appearance a little, so that should help. I kept my hair black, but it's short and spiky now, and there's the earring too. The scar's still a problem sometimes, but since I look a little different, people don't seem to notice it as much. Ron's Mum wasn't too happy about the hair, said it made me look...what's the word...jaded. But I haven't seen any of them in months.
They have tents and booths set up all over the castle grounds. This is the first anniversary, and I guess it was bound to be a big deal. Of course the Ministry wanted me to say something, but I flat out refused. I've done enough, I think.
I wander into the entrance hall, and am relieved to see that most everyone is in the Great Hall where the food tables have been set up. A few people come to talk to me. I smile, shake hands, receive some pounding on the back. I notice a few Aurors standing around. They look curious, but keep their distance. Some months ago, I made it scathingly clear in an interview in the Prophet that I wanted to be left alone. They, more than others, seem to understand this, and have honored my wishes. I know that one of them constantly tails me. It seems there's still a remnant of Voldemort's followers who would like to have the final word. But the Aurors stay in the shadows of my life, and for the most part, I've managed to forget that they're even there.
I see Colin Creevey by the door to the Great Hall just as he sees me. He lowers his camera, and walks over to talk. He doesn't even ask for a picture, and I'm grateful. After we've exchanged some news, I ask him, "Colin, do you think you could go in there and snag me some food, maybe a few butterbeers? I don't want to go in."
He nods, understanding, and I wait until he comes back with an assortment of meat pies, pastries, and the butterbeer. Thanking him, I turn and make my way up the staircases, walking the deserted hall to the library. There's no one here, of course, and I settle into a corner study area to enjoy my feast.
As I eat, I think about this ridiculous predicament the two of us are in.
There was never any question whether or not we would do what we had promised. After the funeral, we'd agreed very civilly, I thought, on a plan. We'd decided to alternate my coming to him one year, and his coming to me the next, the only stipulation being that the anniversary had to be spent within the British Isles. The Headmaster's conditions were clear—the both of us together, in a single room for the twenty-four hour period each year, until we were somehow magically released from the obligation. Surprisingly, we hadn't provoked each other with any parting shots, whether out of respect for the Headmaster, or in fear that his newly departed spirit would somehow be able to punish us for our misbehavior. So we left it at that, and we both set out to live the rest of our lives, finally free of the burden of sharing time and space.
A few minutes before midnight, I make my way down to the dungeons. I walk past the Potions classroom and stop in front of the door to his private rooms. I've never been in these before, and suddenly I'm fighting back the rush of dread that I've managed to hold off all day. Taking a few deep breaths, I force myself to wait until the tower clock has begun to strike, determined not to spend a second longer here than I have to. As I raise my hand to knock, I notice that I'm shaking, the product of seven years of negative reinforcement. Disgusted, I successfully will myself to stop. I'm nineteen now, and he no longer has any power over me.
I almost believe it.
I only manage to rap twice before the door is flung open.
Behold the Man.
If I've had a rough year, his has possibly been worse. He glares at me, but I see the brief flicker of surprise that he isn't quite able to hide. He looks different too: thinner, paler, and my new found bravado aside, more intimidating that I remember him.
"Potter. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for you to extract yourself from your adoring fan club upstairs." Obviously, his difficult year has not affected his ability to inflict wounds with a single sentence. I wonder how long he's practiced this line.
"I wouldn't know," I snap back as I push past him into the room. "I spent the evening alone in the library." I know that I've surprised him when he doesn't reply.
He stands behind me as I take in the room. Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn't this. I've been in his office before, and thought it truly reflected the man. But this. In stark contrast to the cold, forbidding professor, the room is warm, and almost welcoming. But not quite. I cannot forget who actually lives here. Although it's done in rich earth-tones of green, gold, and brown, it's almost devoid of personal touches, except for the two walls that are bookcases, crammed to overflowing. Quelle surprise. Snape likes books.
Next to the door that must lead to his bedchamber, there is a well-stocked sideboard. I walk over to it casually, then lean down to read the labels until I find the one I want. Picking up a glass and the bottle, I turn to him and raise an eyebrow in question.
He has been watching me as I judge his life by his rooms, then seeing what I am asking, he waves dismissively as he mutters, "Go ahead, only don't touch the Glenlivit."
I cross to the hearth and take a seat, pouring my drink as I go. It's almost funny, me sitting by the fire sipping a brandy, as he still stands there, ill at ease in his own rooms.
"Sit," I tell him, unable to stop myself from provoking him.
"Potter," he growls in warning, but then he sits, taking his own drink back up from the table between us.
Suddenly, I realize that I am no longer afraid of him. He is no longer my professor, and I am no longer his student. I am comfortable now, but if brooding has a name, it is Severus Snape. I am looking directly at him, but he seems mesmerized by the fire. I decide to make the first conciliatory gesture.
"So," I begin, but stop, feeling suddenly at a loss over what to call him. "Professor, I was thinking. If we can figure out what the Headmaster wanted out of all of this, maybe if we can just say, or....do whatever it is, then that will be the end of it."
His reply comes so quickly that I know he's already thought of this too. "Do you really think, Potter," --he has no hesitation over what to call me-- "that we can trick the Headmaster with insincerity? I shudder to think of what he most likely arranged for just the possibility that we would try." He shoots me a wry grin. He has a point, though, perhaps borne out of personal experience.
"No," I sigh. "I suppose not." We sit in silence for a long while; then he surprises me with a personal comment.
"I followed your interviews in the Prophet." I am even more surprised. "All your heartfelt pleas to be left alone have rather backfired, haven't they? They've actually taken you at your word." He smirks.
I'm confused, so I tell him, "Actually it's exactly what I wanted. I wasn't playing mind games with them, but it's so like you to think that I was." I meet his eyes and am surprised to see he looks puzzled, which he quickly hides.
Setting his glass down, he stands and stares at me for a moment before saying, "Goodnight, then." Turning, he walks to disappear into the bedchamber.
Suddenly I am furious, and I'm after him in a flash. Standing at his door, I look in to catch him taking off his coat. "What are you doing, Snape?"
He feigns mild surprise. "Going to bed, Potter. Some of us put in a full day's work, or have you forgotten?"
"No, I mean, what happened to 'staying in the same room'?" I'm the one glaring now.
I watch him as realization dawns on his face. "Oh. I'll just leave the door open, then."
"It's not the same thing and you know it."
I can tell he is waffling. "Oh for Merlin's sake, Potter, surely you see it's not practical to sleep in the same room. We'd be up all night."
I accuse him now. "That's obeying the letter of the request, Snape, not the spirit of it. He said 'in the same room', not rooms in the same castle. I don't like it any better than you do, but if we're going to do this out of respect for his wishes, then we need to do exactly what he asked us to do. Whatever his reasons, he was clear - 'in the same room'."
"Fine," he fires back, and flounces past me back into the sitting room. "I take the couch. You take the floor."
I'm not standing for this. "We'll toss for it." Taking a Galleon from my pocket, I say as I toss it, "You call it." He calls heads, and naturally it is. I take the floor, grumbling, while he settles on the couch. I tell him good-night. He doesn't, having already done so once.
The next day passes slowly. I alternately read and sketch. He wants to ask me about it, but cannot swallow his pride long enough to do so. He spends the entire afternoon working on something at his desk. I'm curious, but cannot swallow my pride either. I wish that one of us would. It's true that I am a loner, but being stuck with him in the same room for so long without any meaningful communication just heightens the awareness of how alone I really am. We both are, it seems. I never thought of him being alone. I never really thought of him much at all, outside of how he treated me and what he could teach me. But now, as I watch him, I must admit that I'm curious about his personal life. What events and people in his past have made him such a prick? He sees me watching him, and I look down at my book, embarrassed.
We eat a modest meal at the table, and shortly after, retake our seats at the fire. We hear the grounds outside erupt with the overtures of the fireworks to come; the Headmaster would've loved it.
I am remembering this day as it played out exactly one year ago, and I suspect that he is too, but we do not speak of it. The wounds are still too deep and too fresh.
When the noise of the fireworks dies down, he goes to the sideboard and pours two drinks. He returns and hands one to me - Glenlivit. He remains standing, and suddenly I know why. Coming out of my chair, I stand to face him. We look at each other for a moment before he says, "To Albus Dumbledore."
I raise my glass to his and echo, "To Albus Dumbledore."
We sit in almost companionable silence. I am warm by the fire, my eyelids droop, and I drift off.
I awake as he shakes my shoulder. "Out, Potter. It's midnight."
I gather my things, wondering if maybe I should have arranged to take a room, but it's too late now. Stopping at the door, I turn and look back at him.
"See you next year, Potter," he says.
As I leave the castle, I realize that it seems much less like home now that Albus Dumbledore is gone.