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A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 6]

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Not long after that very disturbing evening, that same dark man wearing that same high-collared ink-black robe entered his dank study at 7 p.m. precisely, already feeling the thundering hooves of an approaching headache at the back of his neck. Before the death of Dumbledore, torturing his students had vented a portion of his general hostility, but though only a week of school had passed, it became evident that even that had lost its charm. Potter, for one, seemed absolutely determined to be almost chipper in his presence, no matter what Snape inflicted upon him. And that Granger swot, to his horror, had taken to looking at him with outright affection. She had even stopped raising her hand at every available opportunity. It was unbearable, really.

And now he had to grade what would no doubt be an atrocious set of quizzes. The first years’ first quizzes, and he was sure they would be especially abysmal. They always were. Cruciatus seemed to him less painful than having to read an eleven-year-old’s fumbling attempt at explaining a boil cure potion. Nevertheless, he drew his favorite red quill pen with a flourish, and seated himself ceremoniously at his immaculate desk. Sometimes a brave front was all that was required to stave off utter despair. Sometimes.

Staring dutifully at the pile of quizzes for a couple of minutes, he attempted to steel himself, but at last he let out a great sigh and put his head in his hands. After nearly twenty years as a Death Eater, recovering Death Eater, and spy, he was still very new in the process of adjusting to being merely Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts.

Yes, he had dealt with his share of unpleasantness in the past week, even if it was nothing on the order of what he was used to. The threat of matchmaker Death Eaters was enough to set his teeth permanently on edge, though there was no sign of them as yet, thank goodness. Surely the old man was having a laugh at his expense, surely. It would not have been the first time.

Yet even more unbearable was the celebrated return of the one who was to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Snape had seen his picture on the front of the Daily Prophet, a picture taken at Pettigrew’s funeral. “Childhood Friend Mourns Voldemort’s Assassin,” Rita Skeeter’s headline had read, accompanied by a picture of Remus John Lupin himself, who was, indeed, crying silently as the body was lowered into the grave. Yes, the gaggle of animagical sycophants was gone, but the werewolf still lived, anemic though his appearance might be.

Snape found the histrionics disgusting, really. His mood was not improved when shortly after that Lupin was rehired. He had apparently tracked and killed Greyback, and the restoration of his career was, Snape supposed, intended to be his reward. But it was Snape who was expected to vacate that position in order to accomplish this. Dumbledore had nattered on about how after everything that had happened that it was time for “new beginnings,” blah blah blah. (He’d become even twinklier in death, the twee bastard.) "New beginnings" indeed. It was just an excuse to bring the werewolf back.

Yet, oddly enough, after an initial fury of indignation, Snape came to the realization that he didn’t much care anymore. Besides, it wasn’t like anyone was all that interested in the Dark Arts now anyway. Even the Dark Mark, the last vestige of his formerly significant existence, was gone like fog on a sunny morning.

To hell with it. Let Lupin teach the clueless brats to swat doxies. Snape had important concerns. There were Death Eaters concerned about his love life, for example. And there were boils to be cured. That sort of thing. And with one more great, deep sigh he began to grade.

He was not but three quizzes in when a voice came out of the fireplace.

“Severus? Have you a moment?”

Blast. Lupin. Why couldn’t that great ponce just leave him be? For the past couple of weeks, ever since Lupin’s ballyhooed return to Hogwarts, Snape had assiduously avoided him, though the werewolf had made that difficult. Lupin seemed to have a sudden inexplicable desire to place himself near to Snape whenever possible, whether in faculty meetings or during meals in the Great Hall. Lupin would proffer him a small, apologetic smile and take the seat next to him, or sit as near to him as possible, and then actually attempt to engage him in polite conversation.

“Bit of wet weather we’ve been having…” he had said once, over breakfast.

Snape, in the midst of scraping some butter over a piece of burnt toast, had scowled. “Imagine that. Rain. In Scotland.”

But all the sarcasm Snape could muster did not seem sufficient to end the practice. It was unnerving.

“Severus?” Lupin’s voice from the fireplace again. “Severus?”

It was unavoidable. Inevitable.

Snape shook his head slowly. “Yes, I have a moment. One. I trust you will be quick.”

There was a flash of green and Remus Lupin stepped through the fireplace, shaking off his patched robes. Couldn’t the man afford new ones now? He certainly didn’t spend his salary on women.

“State your business, Lupin,” Snape said, his eyes on his quizzes. “As you can see, I am busy.”

“Of course, yes, ah…would you be so kind as to stop by my quarters on Friday sometime in the later afternoon, say, four-ish?”

Snape narrowed his eyes and looked up, regarding Lupin warily. He was beginning to suspect that Lupin had an itch for him, which he found both terrifying and amusing. Christ spare him from amorous werewolves, please.

Snape mustered his most contemptuous sneer. “Does your invitation have anything to do with Hogwarts business, or with your…affliction?” he asked, summoning as much disgust as possible.

A small smile curled at the corner of Lupin’s mouth. “And of which one of my afflictions would you be speaking?”

Snape scowled. “Your lycanthropy. As for your other no doubt numerous afflictions please be so kind as to keep any mention of them to yourself.”

Lupin shook his head slowly, still wearing a shadow of that same smile. “No, it has nothing to do with my lycanthropy.”

“Then what could possibly coax me to suffer your company?”

At this Remus Lupin folded his hands in front of him and stared at the Potions professor mildly. “Tea. Quite nice tea actually. Earl Grey. And biscuits.”

Tea? Biscuits?

At this Snape stood up angrily. “Spit it out, Lupin,” he snarled, pointing at him. “What exactly do you want from me?”

But Lupin merely stared. “What I want is for you to suffer my company while I ply you with tea and biscuits.” At this he also offered a small bow.

Snape crossed his arms in front of his chest, his smile perfectly venomous. “How very Gryffindor of you to assume that the past can be expunged with tea and biscuits.”

Lupin blinked at him. “Well, it’s a start, is it not?”

Still glowering, Snape considered, just for a moment, that the offer was genuine. Not that it merited an affirmative reply, of course. Never that. But then he seated himself again, looking away, back down towards his abominable pile of quizzes.

“No, it is not. And so far my demonstration of sneering disregard as suited you quite handily. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”

Lupin did not move. Then he said, very softly, “Times have changed, Severus.”

Snape paused to think on this briefly, but then began grading again. “Times may have changed, but I have not,” he said with utter finality.

He did not look up again until Remus Lupin was gone.

A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 6]

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