“Now, now, you know as well as I do that popularity among the students is hardly a just qualification for this sort of thing. In fact, I’d think Hagrid would be a poor choice for that very reason. No, Severus. I need someone who can maintain a degree of control over the students, not someone who will let them run rampant in the streets. I’m sorry, but you are the only one for the job.” Albus seemed more amused than apologetic.
“Lupin then. You hired him back; he should be good for something. They obey him.”
“It’s a full moon this weekend, Severus, and you know it. You’ve been brewing the Wolfsbane.”
“Then Minerva,” Severus protested. “Not even Malfoy would talk back to her. Or Hooch. Or…”
“Severus, I already told you—I need one of the men to accompany them. I’d do it myself, but I have an appointment with Fudge on Friday, and I’m supposed to speak at Durmstrang on Saturday afternoon, and first thing Sunday morning I’m due in Beijing for a conference with the Asian Council. I just can’t do it myself, and I’d prefer to have you there in my stead.”
“No buts, Severus. I need you to do this for me.”
Severus scowled and folded his arms across his chest. “Is that a direct order then?” he spat menacingly.
“No, my boy, I would never presume to order you to do anything. It is a request, from one friend to another. A recommendation from Headmaster to teacher.”
“Then I have the option of refusing.” It was not a question, but a statement of logic.
“Of course you do,” Dumbledore replied. “And I will understand perfectly if you do not desire to go along.”
“Then I refuse.”
“Very well. I know you have your reasons, Severus, though I do wish you’d reconsider. After all, if you were to do this, I’d be more than willing to make your excuses at other times this year. Or perhaps I’m wrong about your preference to not be involved in the Valentine’s Day festival?”
“This is blackmail,” Severus muttered.
“No it isn’t, it’s bribery.” Damn his twinkling eyes.
“Very well then, it’s bribery. But it’s still abominable coming from you.”
“It’s only a weekend, Severus, and it isn’t as though they’re children precisely. They’re sixth year students, and very dedicated. NEWT students, after all. Sixteen and seventeen year olds, not students fresh off the train for the first time.”
Nineteen students. Nineteen teenage students. Nineteen teenage students with magical abilities in the middle of Muggle London for an entire weekend. Nineteen teenage students with magical abilities in the middle of London for a weekend and only two adults to chaperone the lot of them. Students who came much closer to being adults than to being children.
“It’s supposed to be comforting that they’re sixteen?” Severus asked incredulously. “Whose idea was this, anyway?”
“Abbie’s, of course,” Dumbledore replied, and Severus barely refrained from rolling his eyes.
Abigail O’Donnell, the flame-haired magpie who taught Muggle Studies. Who else would have come up with such a harebrained idea? “And what exactly does the Valentine’s Day festival entail?” Severus asked. It was a mark of his reluctance that he would even consider a heart-filled, chocolate covered day a lesser evil.
“I was thinking a dance, certainly, and perhaps a match-making service among the students with the teachers delivering anonymous Valentines. Of course, I’d let you off fairly easily. Helping to chaperone the dance, decorating the dungeons…”
Severus closed his eyes and had a mental image of a colossal pink heart trimmed with eyelet lace replacing the portrait to the Slytherin common room. He stifled a groan. Still, that would be just one day. One day of sugar and pink, or three days of nineteen teenage witches and wizards in Muggle London.
“I think I’ll take my chances with the Valentine’s celebration,” Severus muttered.
“Indeed? And I thought that would be a certain way to convince you. There is to be no Valentine’s celebration, Severus. I want you to go to London with Professor O’Donnell and the Muggle Studies class.”
Damn. “It’s an order then?” Severus asked. That was the only advantage he had in this argument—Dumbledore preferred not to give commands. He preferred everyone to do his bidding because his requests were “reasonable”.
“I need you there, Severus. Professor O’Donnell is a lovely woman and I’m sure she understands a great deal about Muggles, but the fact remains that she is very young, this is only her second year teaching and she will be sorely outnumbered. She has neither the presence nor reputation that you have, nor the skill at keeping headstrong students in check. I am asking you to go, Severus, because I fear for the safety of the students, and for Professor O’Donnell and for the Muggles as well unless she has a much more firm-handed partner in this.”
“If you’re so concerned about the safety of the students, why not cancel the trip? You gave permission, so you can withdraw it.”
“I do not want to do that. It will be an invaluable experience for the students.”
“But at the cost of their safety?” Severus smirked inwardly; he knew he had the upper hand finally. With luck, the trip would be cancelled inside of five minutes.
“Ah, you see, I was counting on you to agree to this. I would trust you to keep the students safe in a den of dragons, Severus, and I was hoping I could trust you to see them safely through this learning experience.”
He closed his eyes with a vocal sigh. Dumbledore’s trust trumped any objection Severus could come up with. “When are we leaving?” he asked.
“The train leaves at four o’clock on Friday. Directly after the end of classes.”
“Nineteen students,” Severus muttered, leaning forward to pick up the list from Dumbledore’s desk. “Nine Gryffindors, six Ravenclaws and four Hufflepuffs.” No Slytherin would have been caught dead setting a foot inside a Muggle Studies classroom. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“It will be fun, my boy! You will enjoy it immensely, I’m sure. Now, there’s also the small matter of wardrobe…”
“The liquid in your cauldron should be turning scarlet by now, and you should be preparing to add the marigold seeds.” He made a slow circuit of the classroom, peering into cauldrons and pausing at one table and then another. He was watching a Ravenclaw add the marigold seeds when the door opened. Dumbledore was standing there, gesturing. With a doubtful look at the students, Severus walked to the back of the classroom and stood by the open door.
“Ah, Severus, I only need a moment.”
“Headmaster,” Severus acknowledged with a slight nod, his eyes still focused on the students. Second years could make an extraordinary mess of the simplest of potions when left to their own devices.
“I trust everything is going well today?” Dumbledore asked.
“As well as is to be expected,” he replied carefully.
“Ah, excellent. And your students? How are they progressing?”
“They’re fine,” Severus replied tightly. “I suppose this is relevant?”
Dumbledore laughed warmly. “Of course it is, my boy! Of course it is. Ahh… Why don’t you go on along and finish preparing for your trip this weekend.”
He made it sound like a bloody holiday. “In case it has escaped your attention, headmaster, I have a class.”
“Of course, of course. But I’m sure an old coot such as I can manage to supervise the remainder of the lesson. That will give you a chance to finish packing.”
“I have already packed,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Splendid! Then you can meet with Abbie in her classroom. I believe they are preparing for an early departure. We managed to get tickets on the one o’clock train instead of the four o’clock.”
Severus looked at the class again, then at Dumbledore. He knew that the Headmaster was, indeed, quite capable of taking the remainder of the class, but he didn’t like it. Even if it was a simple potion. Hell, even that bat Trelawney could manage this potion.
“Go on, Severus. Enjoy yourself.”
Severus snorted softly. “Not bloody likely,” he muttered, then stalked back to the front of the room. “Professor Dumbledore will be taking the rest of the class,” he announced, making a concerted effort to keep the displeasure from his voice. “When you have finished your potions, you will bottle them and label them and place them on my desk”—he pointed with his wand—“and leave the classroom neat and your cauldrons clean. And if I hear that your behavior deteriorates while I am gone, you will regret it.”
He stalked towards the back of the room, pausing to speak once more to Dumbledore. “Remind them to label their flasks,” he muttered, then stalked out of the classroom.
His scowl only deepened as he cut a swift path to his room. He slammed the door behind him as he entered, though the stone castle was far too solid to shake with the force of his wrath. The door to his wardrobe banged much more satisfyingly. He shucked his robe and jerked out the trousers and shirt he’d left out of his luggage. He barely paid heed to the garments—black trousers and a gray shirt—other than to say a silent prayer of thanks that Minerva had been the one to do the shopping for him rather than Dumbledore. And aside from a pair of crimson boxer shorts that would never touch his body, there was nothing overly objectionable in the lot of it.
Except that it was Muggle clothing. Meant for a three-day foray into Muggle London in the company of the chatterbox who taught Muggle Studies and her nineteen sixth year students.
“I’m going to kill that old man,” he muttered, slamming his foot into one of the black socks.
“No you won’t. You always say that, but you never do.”
Severus paused, the second sock halfway on his foot, and focused a stare that would have frozen lava on the source of the voice. That look would have been more effective had the source been human. “I don’t recall asking your opinion,” he said succinctly.
“I don’t recall that being necessary,” the painting quipped.
“Sod off.” He reached for the shoes, also newly bought and polished to a glossy sheen, and picked irritably at the laces.
“Can’t. Happen to be attached to the wall.”
“I could change that, you know,” Severus muttered.
“But you won’t.”
“I wouldn’t press my luck today,” he answered acerbically as he shoved the shoe onto his foot and tightened the laces.
“And what are you going to do? Dumbledore wouldn’t be pleased if you slashed me from my frame.”
Severus closed his eyes for a moment and counted to ten, then stood, walking slowly to stand before the portrait of an alchemist with an apprentice. It was the alchemist, of course, that was so rude; the apprentice looked mortified to be sharing a frame with the uncouth master, yet too frightened to seek refuge elsewhere. “I’m sure Dumbledore would understand an accident. Say if a cauldron melted? Perhaps a cauldron containing Dissolution Liquid? The fumes alone would peel the paint from every canvas in this room.”
The apprentice looked decidedly green now, and the alchemist’s challenging grin had faded. “It would also strip your face of flesh,” he pointed out.
“It would be worth it,” Severus snapped, reaching out to jerk at a cord. Heavy drapes closed over the portrait and for maybe the dozenth time that term, Severus told himself he should do something about that bloody, over-opinionated painting.
He finished with his shoes and glanced around the room, his foul mood preventing him from caring that his robe was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor and the remnants of his morning tea were still sitting on the table. Let the house elves clean up; that was their bloody job, after all.
He grabbed his suitcase and swung it onto the bed, popping it open so he could peer inside. Two pairs of neatly folded slacks, two crisp shirts, three pairs of socks and three sets of underclothes, and a pair of pajamas that he had no intention of wearing but had packed because Minerva bought them. His shaving kit and personal items were tucked into a corner of the suitcase, his mask, cape and a black robe nestled in another corner, just in case he was summoned while on this little jaunt.
He picked up a stack of essays and dropped them on top of the clothing; hopefully he’d have a chance to mark them at some point over the weekend. His eyes drifted to the shelves that lined his wall—Dumbledore had reminded him that they would be traveling to London by train from Hogsmeade, and it was nearly an eight-hour journey. He would need something to keep himself occupied on the trip. He skipped over the more valuable tomes on the shelf and finally settled on a book of classic philosophy that Flitwick had given him for his birthday several years ago.
He tucked the book into his pocket and closed the suitcase, then reached for the leather wallet Minerva had left him. He opened it and peered inside—three dozen crisp notes were neatly arranged, and the wallet was outfitted with a number of plastic cards and a folded page with instructions written in her sharp, neat handwriting. He placed the wallet in his pocket and glanced around the room once more, retrieved his wand and stepped into the corridor, closing his door firmly behind him.
“It’s just three days,” he told himself. “Two really. You can survive anything for two days.” Having made up his mind, he trudged out of the dungeons and up to the classroom where Abigail O’Donnell taught Muggle Studies. He was still three doors down when he heard her distinctive Irish lilt drifting down the hall.
“Excellent job, Zachary! Five points to Ravenclaw.”
Severus dropped his suitcase to the floor with a heavy thud and folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the doorframe and watching the classroom. At the sound of his luggage hitting the floor, all chatter stopped suddenly and heads swiveled, looks of unveiled horror settling onto more than one face.
“What is he doing here?” came a fervent whisper from the corner of the room. Severus didn’t look to see who had voiced the question so obviously etched on everyone’s face.
“Ah! Professor Snape! We’ll be ready to get underway in just a few minutes. I have a few more bags to check first.” Abigail knelt beside another student’s bag and opened it, revealing stacks of neatly folded clothing which she rummaged through, marking things on a checklist.
“Splendid,” Severus muttered, not moving from his chosen spot by the door.
Abigail offered him a smile then set to the task of ignoring him.
“Are you going too, Professor Snape?” came a hesitant and hopeful voice from the vicinity of the front of the room. Severus did not fool himself to think that the girl who had spoken—a golden-haired Ravenclaw by the name of Eileen Chester—hoped he was accompanying them. He doubted any of the students would be any more thrilled about his coming along than he was.
“I am, Miss Chester,” he replied bluntly.
“But why?” This came from Kevin Winchman, a Gryffindor who was, if Severus was not mistaken, one of the older students.
“Because the Headmaster thinks it a good idea,” Severus answered, keeping his expression neutral.
O’Donnell straightened and moved her unruly mop of flame-colored hair behind her ear. “It is customary to have both a male and a female teacher sponsor any field trip outside of the castle,” she told them. “Professor Snape has generously agreed to join us.”
Severus snorted and had the distinct impression that at least two of the students had done the same. He ignored them for the moment, though.
“Is this going to take much longer?” he asked impatiently as O’Donnell moved to the next student’s bag. “I was under the impression that our departure was imminent and that was why the Headmaster thought it crucial for me to come here immediately instead of waiting until class was over.”
“I only have two more bags to check,” she replied. “Unless, that is, I need to check yours as well?”
“I hardly think that is necessary.”
“Well, then, if you want to gather everyone and begin getting them to the front gates. Hagrid should be bringing the carriages around to take us all into Hogsmeade. Does everyone have their tickets?” she looked around the room again as she popped open one more suitcase. There was a general murmur of assent, and she nodded briskly, then looked at Severus. “Would you mind seeing to the loading, then? Then we can be on our way sooner.”
For a moment, his eyes narrowed. This was not one of the duties he had been anticipating—supervising the departure of the students to Hogsmeade. He took a steadying breath and pushed away from the doorframe. “Well, you all heard Professor O’Donnell,” he said briskly. “If you’ve had your bags checked, come along, and be quick about it. And silent. There are still classes in progress.”
Without waiting to ensure that they students would obey, he whisked his own suitcase into his hand and stalked down the corridors. The echoing of students’ footsteps filled his ears momentarily, assuring him that they were, indeed, following. If there had been any doubt, it was obliterated as he heard first whispers, then low murmurs.
“I thought I said to be quiet,” he snapped over his shoulder. “Not another word.”
He could still hear the occasional whisper, but the talking died to nothing, so he considered the order obeyed until he heard the distinctive sound of Nicole Ramsey’s voice. “Why couldn’t we have had Professor Lupin come along instead?” The question was obviously not directed at him, and he had no intention of dignifying it with a response anyway. Especially since he’d asked Dumbledore the same thing.
“Detention, Miss Ramsey,” he said smoothly over his shoulder. “Monday evening, eight o’clock, my office. You shall be copying the definition of ‘silent’ four hundred times.”
He heard a muffled groan, but no one else said a word until they reached the front door, where Hagrid had, indeed, brought around the carriages. Severus looked at the thestrals from the corner of his eye; he was always a bit wary of the things. Why couldn’t Hogwarts use horses for conveyance?
“Goo’ afternoon, Professor,” Hagrid said cheerily. “All ready to be goin’ then?”
“I believe so, Hagrid,” Severus replied formally.
“All righ’ then. I’ll just be loadin’ the luggage back here. You lot, get in an’ behave yerselves.” This last he directed at the students, who rushed to choose their seats. Severus scowled slightly as the students piled in, five and six to a carriage. Hagrid was loading the last suitcase when O’Donnell and the last two students came out of the castle to join them.
Severus watched with slight amusement as the students crammed in together, three of the four carriages filling rapidly and one left entirely vacant; no one wanted to be riding with the teachers, obviously. Jordan Kitts, a Ravenclaw, was the last of the students, and therefore the one left without a seat in one of the three carriages.
“Sorry, mate,” Zachary Nash, another Ravenclaw, said with a grin as he closed the door.
“Come on, Jordan, you can ride with us. In you go. Is everyone here? Everyone ready to go?” O’Donnell was making a last head count of the students as Hagrid secured the last of the luggage. “All right, then. We’ll only have about fifteen minutes when we get to Hogsmeade, so no time to dawdle. Ready?” She looked at Severus this time, and he gestured towards the carriage.
“After you,” he replied. She climbed into the conveyance, awarding him with a momentarily shocking view of her trouser-clad bum before she settled. That was one thing he could say about Muggle clothing—it was much more revealing, even when modest, than any wizard’s robes.
He put the thought firmly from his mind, though, lest his own Muggle clothes reveal something embarrassing about him. Namely, his involuntary reaction to the thoughts associated with Professor O’Donnell’s bum. He’d been alone far too long. As the carriage lurched forward, Severus steeled himself for what was certain to be a harrowing weekend.
The journey to Hogsmeade progressed quickly and uneventfully, gods be praised, and the lot of them were loaded onto the train with ten minutes to spare. Perhaps, if things continued to move at this rate, the weekend wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Severus had chosen a compartment near the front of the train, and as the whistle blew, announcing their impending departure, he was already settled, book open on his lap, a cup of tea steaming beside him. At this juncture, he still considered the students to be the sole responsibility of one Abigail O’Donnell, and therefore none of his concern.
He was anticipating a solitary journey, but to his surprise, the door to his compartment slid open and O’Donnell joined him without invitation, flopping unceremoniously into the seat across from him and forking a hand through her hair. “I don’t think I realized how much work this was going to be,” she commented with a sigh, leaning her head back against the seat.
For a moment, he considered ignoring her in hopes that she would seek conversation with one of the students rather than disrupt him. The chance to gloat was too tempting to pass up, though. “Expecting a holiday, were you? Hardly. This is likely to be the most hellacious experience you have had since you began teaching. Nineteen teenage witches and wizards loose in the streets of London. What were you thinking?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. It would have been a rather impressive glare had he been ten years younger. “Better now with supervision than in ten years to figure it out for themselves,” she retorted. “And they won’t be running loose in the streets. We have a tight schedule planned.”
“And what do you intend to do?” he asked, curious despite himself.
“We’re touring Buckingham Palace tomorrow morning, then a few hours of shopping in Camden, then dinner reservations at five, then theatre tickets at 7:30, then Sunday we’ll be visiting the British Museum, then Tate Modern and Tate Britain, we grab a spot of lunch and our train leaves at two. We’ll be back in Hogsmeade close to midnight.”
So much for his hopes of marking papers. “And I suppose this serves some purpose?”
“We’ll be immersed in Muggle culture for two days, Severus. What better way to learn about Muggles than to spend time with them in their shops and museums? The students have Muggle money, and they researched carefully to see what sort of clothes would be appropriate for their age. It will be great fun, I’m sure. It was just getting everyone away from Hogwarts that was so much work.”
Severus had his doubts, but merely raised an eyebrow. “I do hope you know what you’re doing then,” he replied noncommittally.
“Don’t worry. I do.”
“What do you mean you only have six rooms? We reserved seven.”
That sounded ominous already, and Severus turned away from the counter, letting Abigail handle the mix up. He stalked back into the lobby where the students were all milling about, beginning to grow restless.
“I don’t recall giving you all permission to talk,” he snapped, black eyes narrowing as he searched the assembled students for the source of their excitement. His gaze landed on one of the Gryffindors who was busily attempting to do something surreptitious. “Sit down, Mr. Sherman,” he commanded. “And put that wand away at once. I thought you were supposed to be passing as Muggles.”
The boy made a face, but his wand disappeared again and Severus made a mental note to ask Abigail why the students needed to have their wands with them.
“Need I remind you all that we are not at Hogwarts, and you will be held accountable for your actions while you are here? You are subject to the laws of London, as well as the school rules, and I for one will not tolerate stupidity from any of you. All of you, sit down, be quiet and behave while Professor O’Donnell sorts out the rooms.” Having issued this order, Severus turned on his heel and stalked back to where Abigail was standing.
“There seems to have been some misunderstanding,” she said in a clipped tone as she gathered a folder of papers and shoved them into the satchel she was carrying in lieu of a handbag. “Somehow, instead of five rooms with two double beds each and two rooms with a single bed each, we have six rooms with two double beds each. Therefore, Severus, you will either be sharing a room with me or joining the boys.”
“I beg your pardon?” he said in a dangerous voice.
“I said,” she began patiently, “that there has been an error and you will need to either share a room with me or be the fourth occupant of one of the boys’ rooms.”
A scowl hardened onto Severus’ face. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “This is your field trip, and your responsibility. If there are not enough rooms, then you will share with the girls and…”
“Both the girls’ rooms are full,” she interrupted. “Two to a bed, two beds to a room, that’s four girls per room and there are eight girls. There are eleven boys, which means there is an empty space in one of their beds if you object to sharing a room with me. I would advise you to just accept the inconvenience of sharing with me, though, as at least you will have your own bed.”
Irritating as it was, Severus knew she was right. There was simply no way in hell he was going to share a room with three sixteen year old boys, and in all honesty they would probably be as opposed to that arrangement as he was. It’s just for the weekend, he reminded himself. You can do anything for two days.
“Very well,” he snapped. “Let’s go. Just go.”
“All right, students, come along! We’re on the eighth floor…” There was a general grumble from students complaining about hauling their luggage up four flights of stairs, but O’Donnell ignored it neatly. “And the lift is just around the corner up here. So come on. Hurry!”
“The lift?” Severus heard one of the students whisper.
“You know, the flying box we read about,” one of the others replied.
Severus felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. Were these students really prepared to be in London, even for two days? By the sounds of it, the answer was a resounding no.
Luckily, no one else was sharing the lift with them, as all the students were marveling over the many buttons as though they’d never seen a lift before. Which the likely hadn’t. Neither had Severus, in all honesty, but he considered it beneath himself to crawl on his knees and examine all the buttons. One of the Gryffindors pushed a button, and a loud, piercing alarm shrieked through the lift.
Severus clamped a hand over the boy’s wrist. “Do not touch anything,” he hissed.
The boy swallowed hard but nodded, and Severus let go of his hand. Riding the lift was an experience Severus hoped he would soon forget—it was full of lurches and stops; it seemed to stop at every floor, and the doors opened, then closed before it lurched again. With every lurch, it felt as though the bottom were dropping out of his stomach, and every time it stopped, his stomach returned quite suddenly. This was miserable. If the entire trip was going to be like this…
Two days, Severus, he reminded himself. Just two days.
They reached the eighth floor finally, and the doors chimed as they opened, and the students poured out slowly, most of them looking to Abigail for their cues. She glanced at the slip of paper in her hand, then gestured for everyone to follow. “This way,” she announced in a hushed voice. “Rooms 812 through 817.” As they walked, a slow chatter began to rise from the gaggle of teens.
“Silence…” Severus said in a warning tone. “There are likely people trying to sleep.” It was a quarter to ten, so it was a valid enough assumption, even if it was not a sense of altruism that prompted it from the Potions Master. He had a headache himself and only wanted silence.
Once they reached the rooms, Abigail selected one and took a moment to study a plastic card. She turned it over several times, then inserted it into the door handle, and opened the door, nodding to herself as she gestured for everyone to enter the room. “Leave your luggage over here,” she indicated a clear space just inside the door, “and find a place to sit while we get settled.”
The students filed in one at a time and deposited their luggage where she’d pointed, and settled onto the beds, into the chairs and finally onto the floor as they ran out of room.
“Right then,” Abigail announced as she shut the door. “We need to go over a few ground rules before we divide up into our rooms. First, there is to be no magic whatsoever while we are here. If I see a wand, I will confiscate it and the person holding it will be serving a week’s worth of detention when we get back to Hogwarts. And that will be in addition to punishment for anything done with the wand. Second…”
Abigail droned on for what seemed an eternity. Girls were to stay out of the boys’ rooms and vice versa. No one was to go anywhere alone. Curfew was strictly at eleven o’clock, and if she heard a peep from any of the rooms after that she was going to punish the entire room… By the time she’d finished reciting the rules, the students all looked properly subdued and half of them looked as though they wondered why they’d bothered to come.
“All right, Professor Snape and I are going to assign you to your rooms. Here, Professor, I have copies of all the keys for you and copies for me, and the students will have one copy per room.” She handed him half a dozen paper sleeves with plastic cards in them.
“These are keys?” he muttered, pulling one out. It was gold with a black script on it, a black stripe along the reverse side.
“Yes,” Abigail replied, then turned to the students again. “You keep up with your key. And if you lock yours into your room, tell me or Professor Snape and we’ll let you in.” She turned to Severus again. “How do you think we should assign the rooms?” she asked.
“They’re all in a block?” he asked, and she nodded.
“Even numbers on this side of the hall, odd numbers on the other.”
“Put the boys in the odd numbers then, and the girls on this side, and we’ll share the middle one,” he replied.
Abigail nodded and began shuffling sleeves. “All right then. Eileen, you be in room 812. Kevin, you be in 813. Richard, you be in 814.”
“Boys in odd numbers,” Severus muttered.
“Right. Richard, 815. Yvonne, 814.”
“We’re in 814,” Severus interrupted.
“You already have a boy in 815. You can’t put a girl in there too.”
“I don’t mind,” Richard Jones called out, and Severus glared at him.
“Umm… 816 then. Yvonne—816. Andrea, 814. Rachel, 816.”
“You just put another student in our room.”
“Do you want to do this?” Abigail asked suddenly, her hands on her hips, eyes flashing.
“Yes, actually,” Severus replied. “We might finish tonight if I do it. Give me the keys.”
She handed over the keys and folded her arms, looking at him expectantly. He lined them up on the table and reached for a pen, frowning at it. Scribbling a little circle in the top corner of one of the paper sleeves, he decided it would work well enough since his quills were in his suitcase which was somewhere in the pile of luggage against the wall.
He straightened again and began pointing. “Garrison, Kitts, Sheffield, Worth. You four are in room 813,” he announced, scrawling their names on his own copy of the key and then handing them the card. “Gilman, Jones, Sherman, Winchman. You four are in 815. Nash, Owens, Rutherford. You three are in 817.” He made his notations and handed them their keys as well, then looked at Abigail. “You see? Don’t make it complicated.” He didn’t mention that it had taken him three years as Head of Slytherin before he’d learned the fine art of making room assignments without mistakes. “Miss Barton, Miss Chester, Miss Eaton and Miss Tucker, you four are in 812. Miss Edmund, Miss Jenkins, Miss Ramsey, Miss York, you are in room 816.”
Abigail scowled but nodded. “All right,” she announced. “Everyone to their rooms now—“
“No,” Severus interrupted. “Those of you in room 812, get your luggage and go with Professor O’Donnell. Those of you in room 817, get your luggage and come with me. The rest of you stay here, be quiet and don’t touch anything.”
Severus led the way into the hall, a pair of keys in his hand, and stalked across to the room. He took the plastic from its sleeve and stared at it for a moment, then turned it over and stared at the other side. How exactly did one go about opening a door with a piece of plastic?
“I think Professor O’Donnell stuck the card into the doorknob,” Gregory Rutherford offered helpfully, and Severus raised an eyebrow, but peered at the knob. There was no place to put it.
“Try in that slot there,” Kenneth Owens suggested.
“If I want your help I will ask for it, Owens,” Severus muttered, but inserted the card into the slot anyway. Nothing happened.
“Insert card and remove quickly. When light flashes green, open door.” Severus turned a glare towards Zachary Nash who flashed him an insolent grin, then held up the card he was holding. “The instructions are on the back.”
Severus frowned, and inserted the card, then removed it. There was no flashing green light, but he tried the handle anyway. Nothing happened.
“Maybe it goes the other way,” Rutherford suggested, so Severus flipped the card over and tried it again. Still nothing. He turned it and tried it again. Finally, there was a flashing green light, and he turned the knob, swinging the door inward.
“Leave it to a Muggle to complicate something simple,” he muttered. He peered into the darkness and took a step into the room, then stifled a curse as his thigh came into contact with something. Light flooded the room suddenly, and the three boys filed in looking around.
“All right,” Severus said. “Keep your voices down and settle.”
“Sir, do you know when we’re going to have dinner?” Rutherford asked as he swung his suitcase onto one of the beds.
“I’ll mention it to Professor O’Donnell,” he replied, pocketing his copy of the key and closing the door behind him. He returned to the room where the rest of the students were and picked up the key to 815. “Gilman, Sherman, Winchman, Jones, come with me. Bring your luggage. The rest of you stay quiet.” Severus crossed the hall quickly and looked at the key for a moment, turning it carefully and then inserting it into the slot. The door opened on the first try.
“Figuring out the keys?” Abigail asked and he frowned at her.
“It isn’t difficult,” he answered stiffly, and she raised an eyebrow but disappeared into their room. Severus repeated his instructions to the boys and left them to work on unpacking, then stalked across the hall again to retrieve the last group of boys. As he was herding them out of the room, Abigail reappeared and he paused to speak to her. “There have been questions about dinner,” he said succinctly. “I suppose you have a plan for that as well?”
“Of course!” she said brightly. He was fairly certain she was lying, but he made a noncommittal noise as he opened the last door and ushered the four boys inside. When he returned to the room he was sharing with the Muggle Studies teacher, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, an odd-looking contraption pressed to her ear. “All right,” she said. “Thank you.” She placed the contraption back on the table and smiled brightly. “I ordered pizza. It will be here in half an hour.”
“Pizza?” Severus repeated. “What is that?”
“Food,” she replied. “I did three months of field study in Muggle London, and I have to say that pizza is one of the few things I missed when I left.” As she spoke, she rose from the bed and retrieved her suitcase. “Which bed do you want?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, and she chose the bed nearest the door. He picked up his suitcase and dropped it onto the other bed, popping it open. He peered inside, then began pulling out the three shirts and two pairs of trousers that were in it. Laying them on the bed, he smoothed away the wrinkles.
“So,” Abigail said, crossing the room and dropping a small bag onto the counter beside the sink, “how did Dumbledore finagle you into this?”
Severus scowled at the neatly rolled socks he was pulling from his bag. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t want to be here, and it’s fairly obvious. How’d he talk you into it?”
“Are you implying…”
“No, I’m outright saying,” she interrupted, and he turned his scowl to her.
“The Headmaster did not finagle me into anything,” he replied stiffly. “He said that he needed someone with sound judgement to accompany the students, and having seen your methods, I’m rather inclined to agree. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d really prefer not to pretend to be your long lost dearest friend.”
Abigail turned to him, her eyes flashing angrily. “Now see here,” she began, but got no further. Her words were interrupted by an ear-shattering scream from the room to their left. Severus grabbed his wand from the table where he’d left it, shoved it into his shirt and was out the door before Abigail took a step forward. He banged three times on the door to the room from which the scream had come, then shoved the key into it, opening it.
The four girls were all huddled in a corner, staring at the bed as though it were going to bite them.
“And what is all this noise about?” Severus asked, folding his arms and leaning against the doorframe, his heartbeat slowly returning to normal as he affirmed that the girls were not in immediate danger.
“Th-th-there,” Nicole Ramsey was pointing towards the bed. Severus stalked into room and jerked the blanket off the bed as Abigail finally made an appearance. There was a dead rat halfway under one of the pillows.
“Attractive,” he muttered, looking at Abigail, who sighed.
“You four go join the other girls down the hall,” she said. “We’ll take care of this.”
The girls filed out, casting a series of appalled glances at the bed. When they were gone, Severus looked at Abigail, raising an eyebrow. “Was this the only hotel option in all of London?” he asked, prodding at the rat with the end of his wand. It made an unpleasant squeaking noise but didn’t move.
“I’m not a bloody fortune teller. This is supposed to be one of the nicer hotels in the area.”
“Rat infested and staffed with idiots, and it’s one of the nicer ones? I’d hate to see the ones that are worse.”
Abigail ignored that comment and settled onto the edge of the other bed, picking up the contraption on the table. She pressed a button, and then spoke into the instrument. “Umm, yes. We’re in room…” she paused.
“Eight-sixteen,” Severus supplied.
“Room 816,” she continued, “and there’s a rat on the bed.” She paused again, and he could hear a muffled, mangled voice, then Abigail shook her head. “No, it’s dead… No, we’ll keep this room… I have a group of nineteen teenagers on a field trip. We need the rooms to be close together, and we’ve all already unpacked. I just want someone to come change the linens… I understand that, but…” she sighed, and held the contraption away from her ear, scowling at it.
Severus held out a hand and curled his fingers slightly, inviting her to hand him the telephone. He pressed it to his ear, and he could hear someone talking, making excuses. “Hello?” he asked, and the talking stopped suddenly.
“Hello? I thought I was talking to a Miss O’Donnell?”
“Well now you’re talking to a Mr. Snape,” he replied. “Is there a problem with Miss O’Donnell’s request?”
“I was just explaining to her that if there is a pest problem we need to address the entire problem. We’ll be more than happy to offer a refund on the room, or to offer a different room instead.”
“Do you have seven rooms available, grouped together?” he asked pointedly.
“But nothing,” he interrupted. “Just send someone up to change the bedding and you can take care of the pest problem after we’ve checked out on Sunday.”
“Sir, that’s really not possible. You see…”
“That’s not an acceptable answer. We just found a dead rat in this bed. That does not bode well for this establishment, I’d think. Now you are refusing to offer clean linens?”
“I’m not refusing anything…”
“Excellent. So someone will be up within five minutes to change this bedding, correct? Good night.” He gave the phone back to Abigail, who hung it up, smirking slightly.
“Remind me never to irritate you,” she said.
“Unfortunately, you already have. Now do you think you are capable of managing this by yourself or do I need to sit here and supervise the making of the bed?”
“You know, I could do with a little less attitude from you,” she muttered.
“And I could do with a large glass of brandy,” he replied. “But it is doubtful either of us is going to get what we desire. Now can you manage here?”
“Of course I can manage here,” she snapped.
“Good. Then I am going to finish unpacking.” He stalked back to their room and shut the door firmly, then turned his attention back to his suitcase.
Just two days, he reminded himself again.
An hour and a half later, Severus was sitting at the round table, a stack of essays in front of him, reading. If he was going to be trapped here, he might as well put the time to good use, though it was most unfortunate for the students whose papers he was marking that he was already more than a little irate with students in general. His remarks were even more scathing than usual.
The familiarity of marking papers was beginning to have a calming effect on his frayed nerves, though, and he was slowly starting to calm a bit, so that by the time the door opened and Abigail let herself in, he could barely muster a scowl for her.
“It might be advisable to knock before entering,” he muttered, turning back to the parchment he was reading. “Given that we are sharing this room.”
“Sorry,” she replied, dropping a flat box on the table.
“What is this rubbish?” he asked, nudging the box with his quill.
“Pizza,” she replied. “Since you didn’t see fit to join us for dinner.”
He lifted the box top and peered inside—it was a mess of congealed grease atop flat bread for all he could tell. He let the box top fall again. “I’m sure I appreciate the gesture.”
“Are you anything but prickles?” she asked suddenly, whirling on him.
“No,” he answered without hesitation. He had no intention of encouraging conversation from her.
She made an irritated noise and whirled away, stalking towards her bed. A moment later, she was storming into the bathroom, and after a few seconds, Severus heard the water cut on. He finished the parchment he was marking, and then capped his ink and put away his quill. After tucking the parchments into a folder, he reached for the box again and lifted out a large slice of… pizza. Whatever that was supposed to be.
He examined it closely, and determined that the congealed grease was actually cheese, and there were mushrooms and olives on it as well. He took a hesitant bite, then shrugged. It wasn’t as bad as he was expecting, though he certainly didn’t think he was going to miss it, as Abigail said she had done after her brief stint as a Muggle. He finished off the slice and moved back towards the bed, where he paused, listening. The shower was still going, so he took a chance and hurriedly dropped the folder of parchment into his suitcase and retrieved the pajamas that he was now quite glad he’d packed. He undressed quickly and shrugged into the striped cotton pants and shirt, then shoved the clothes he’d been wearing into the suitcase he’d just emptied.
Scrambling into bed, he pulled the blankets up to his chin and closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep. After a moment, the water cut off in the bathroom, and a few minutes later, the door opened.
“Severus? Are you asleep already?” she asked quietly. He doggedly didn’t say anything, having had more than enough of her for one day. She sighed softly, and then the water cut on again and he heard her brushing her teeth. A few minutes later, the other bed creaked and he opened one eye just enough to watch her surreptitiously.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, one leg folded beneath her, the other bent and propped on the mattress, a hairbrush in her hand. He watched as she pulled the brush through the copper-colored locks, her eyes focused on a paper on the bed. He opened his other eye as well, watching her more frankly.
Her dark blue shorts barely hit the middle of her thighs, and he came to the conclusion that her bum wasn’t the only shapely body part she had. Her legs were smooth and faintly lustrous, and he suddenly had the most unexplainable urge to kiss the back of her knee.
Stop that, he commanded himself. He forced his eyes away from her legs, but found that looking at her torso wasn’t much of an improvement for his composure. The pale blue t-shirt she wore clung to her breasts and emphasized the graceful curve of waist and hips. He would have had to be blind not to notice the way her nipples strained against the fabric of the shirt, particularly when she put the hairbrush aside and stretched, her hands clasped above her head.
She glanced his way, and he quickly shut his eyes. A moment later, he opened them slightly once more, and his mouth went dry. She was caressing one of her breasts, rubbing at the nipple with her thumb. He was torn between feeling like an intruder for watching and a sudden desire to feel those nipples between his thumbs and fingers. She pinched herself slightly, and her lips parted, her eyelashes fluttering to her cheeks, and Severus felt a stirring of his own body.
She shifted suddenly, and her legs disappeared beneath the blanket, and she leaned over, turning off the lamp. The room was in total darkness, and he found himself straining to hear her. After a moment, he was rewarded by a soft gasp, and then her breathing quickened. His imagination filled in what his eyes could not see, and he stifled a groan as he hardened. A slight whimper rose from the other bed, then she gasped again.
“Think you can make a little more noise at that?” Severus asked suddenly, and she emitted an undignified squeak.
The light came on suddenly, and she was staring at him, wide-eyed and red-faced. “How long have you been awake?” she demanded.
“Long enough to enjoy the views you were offering,” he replied obtusely, inwardly amused as her eyes grew even wider. He could almost hear her replaying her every movement through her mind to figure out what he was talking about.
“You…” she began, but trailed off, apparently unable to find a suitable name to call him.
“Me nothing,” Severus replied. A slow, sneering smile crossed his face. “By all means, Abigail, don’t let me interrupt your… pleasure. I was just asking that you be a little less noisy about it. Some people actually sleep at night.”
She was quiet for a moment, and then he heard the bed creak as she stood. He closed his eyes, determined to ignore her. He succeeded until he felt a gentle pressure on his already aching cock, and his eyes flew open.
She smiled a wicked smile, most of the heightened color having drained from her face. “I suppose you’re going to try to tell me that you won’t be doing the exact same thing in a few minutes?” she asked sweetly.
“No, madam, I will not,” he replied stiffly. “Now kindly remove your hand.”
He drew a sharp breath as she stroked him lightly for a moment before complying. “Then you’re going to just lie there and suffer? Pity. And to think, I was going to suggest we help each other out a bit, seeing as we are in the same boat, so to speak.”
His eyes narrowed. “Are you suggesting…” he began, and she interrupted.
“I’m merely saying that we’re both adults, and there is nothing to keep either of us from… indulging a bit. Given the circumstances.”
He stared at her for a minute. “You do realize how tempting that is,” he said almost conversationally.
“I’m hoping you’ll give into the temptation,” she replied, settling onto the bed beside him. “It will be far less difficult to face you tomorrow if we’ve both enjoyed ourselves a bit tonight than it will be to look at you knowing what you saw and what I did.”
He glanced at the clock on the bedside table, then at her again. Her nipples were straining against the fabric of her shirt, and he could smell her arousal. Her lips were rosy, just begging to be kissed, and he didn’t even bother lying to himself by saying he didn’t want her. He, however, had a measure of restraint that she obviously did not, and a sneering smile darkened his face.
“Then I suppose it will just be difficult for you to face me tomorrow,” he replied softly. “Go back to bed.”
She paled a bit. “You’re telling me…”
“I’m telling you ‘no’,” he replied distinctly. “Good night.”
She straightened, her face reddening once more, and stood slowly, walking stiffly back to her bed.
“And go ahead and enjoy yourself, Miss O’Donnell,” he suggested. She looked at him, her eyes narrow, and he pointedly put his hands on top of the blankets, folded over his stomach. It might mean an uncomfortable night, but it was somehow gratifying to know that he would be watching her squirm all day tomorrow.
It almost made up for the fact that he had to be here to begin with.