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A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 5]

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Snape gave Lupin’s advice all the consideration he felt it deserved. That is, none. It was not that he was not uninterested in women, or in sex; he simply loathed the simpering details usually associated with acquiring them. Snape knew that men of looks and means were often granted a reprieve in that regard, but he had neither, and he did not see that changing anytime soon. In fact (perhaps as a defiant reaction to the youthful tormenting), as a young man Severus Snape had made a conscious decision not to try to appear “attractive,” and he even began to cultivate his disagreeable appearance and see it as a part of his own fundamental nature. Snape as well did not ingrain in himself the degradingly facile sort of charm that often made up for deficiencies in physical appearance. If most women were repulsed (and most were), so be it.

He was forced to admit, however, that the attentions of a woman might at least serve as a distraction from the dreary business of an ordinary life. The most important matters he had to attend to these days were Potter’s innumerable detentions and a seemingly endless round of committees. The textbook committee, the academic standards committee, the curriculum committee, etc. etc. etc… This year there were dozens of them, most completely new, and as head of house, he was ex-officio member of any number of them. He chaired three, boring dreary affairs which served mostly to allow the professors and staff involved to pontificate endlessly. Snape thought ruefully that at least when Voldemort had been alive, there had not been all this petty determination to “look busy.”

The newly formed student grievance committee, however, actually looked as if it might turn out to be rather interesting. The current grievance involved a grade received by one of his best students, a seventh-year named Princilla Gash. The professor involved, who had been hired the previous year to teach Ancient Runes, was an entirely colorless individual named Flintrammel. This Flintrammel person had assigned Princilla an “E” instead of the “O” she so obviously felt she deserved, and while she was allowed to advance to seventh-year studies, for Princilla protesting the mark was doubtless a matter of pride. Pride was something in which Princilla could have easily achieved an “O” without any effort at all. Not that Snape minded this, so long as the pride was warranted, and in Princilla’s case, for the most part, it was. The situation was complicated by the fact that Flintrammel was a Squib. Princilla obviously thought herself superior, and in magical ability, that was certainly the case.

Snape had actually protested the Squib’s hire with a terrible vigor, which he had not even attempted to disguise. Filch was one thing, and that Figg woman did have her uses, but a Squib as a member of the faculty was another matter entirely. However, it was a difficult fact that the mastery of subjects such as the History of Magic, Muggle Studies, and Ancient Runes required absolutely no magical ability at all, from either student or teacher. “A knowledgeable Muggle, in fact, could teach them all,” Albus had said back then. But what could be done and what should be done, in Snape’s mind, were most often two entirely different things.

In another year he might have kicked up a proper fuss, but what with everything else going on, Snape had not had the energy, and so he had contented himself with merely displaying a contemptuous indifference towards the new professor. And if his new colleague ever demonstrated a certain pique at his attitude, Snape did not much care. He had more important things to worry about than the feelings of a teacher with barely enough magical ability to see the castle. Horcruxes, for example. And Unbreakable Vows. And Killing Curses. He was a busy man.

Or he had been, anyway. Princilla’s appeal of her final marks in sixth year Ancient Runes was actually the most exciting thing to happen to him in months, especially since he still was still not convinced about the Death Eaters’ concern for his marital status. So, it was with a certain anticipation that he found himself entering the faculty conference room on the date of the hearing.

“This meeting is called to order,” he announced, scanning the room. Dumbledore arrived, sliding through the west stone wall just as Snape seated himself. And all the heads of house seemed to be present, except for…

“Where is Minerva?” Snape asked, just as Lupin entered.

“Er…I’ve just spoken to her,” he answered. “She is monitoring a pressing situation involving Nearly Headless Nick and Esther Pinbottle. I’m her substitute, barring objection of course,” Lupin said, nodding apologetically. Then he sat down and began fishing around in his robes.

Esther Pinbottle. A homely, squinty-eyed Ravenclaw seventh-year, who made up for her lack of physical appeal with a rather shocking cleverness. She also had a wicked sense of humor, of which Snape much approved, so long as it was directed towards Gryffindor. She was pudgy with spots in addition to being homely, so she garnered her share of abuse, but Snape actually had a subtle admiration for her sly and mischievous nature, and most especially her flair for revenge.

“What has the girl done now?” Snape asked.

Lupin retrieved a small brown bag and proceeded to fish around in that as well.

“Well, ah…” Lupin was unwrapping some sort of toffee, it seemed. “She’s apparently cast a rather upsetting spell on Nearly Headless Nick, though I can’t say he minds. He’s floating about the Gryffindor common room right this moment…”

“Isn’t that what he usually does?” Flitwick interrupted. His notable ears had doubtless pricked up at the mention of a student in his house.

Lupin cleared his throat, looking rather uncomfortable. “Yes, well, yes, but he’s not usually quite so…nude.”

N-nude?” Flitwick coughed, and flushed red, as if he couldn’t bear saying the word, let alone dealing with the actual naked ghost himself.

“As a newborn babe.” Lupin nodded.

“Oh my…” Flitwick said softly, obviously horrified.

“A newborn babe, however, with a lot of body hair, I must say,” Lupin added.

Snape’s look was one of mingled amusement and horrified disgust. He had always liked that Ravenclaw girl.

“Made something of a run at Lavender Brown, apparently. I don’t think she’s quite got over it.” Lupin popped the toffee in his mouth.

Snape made a distinct harrumphing sound. “She kept company with that Weasley boy last year, did she not? A naked ghost with an excess of body hair sounds like a distinct improvement.”

Flitwick coughed again, looking nervously at Lupin. “Should I go, do you think? Do you think I am…needed?”

Lupin shook his head, looking at Flitwick with his peculiar brand of annoyingly kind pity. “Minerva has the situation in hand. She’s administering a Calming Draught as we speak, and has suitably intimidated Nick back into his clothing. I’m sure she’ll consult you on the possible punishment for Miss Pinbottle.”

“Don’t be too hard on the girl, Filius,” Snape said, “I saw Lavender Brown and that Patil creature giggling behind her in the hall last week, and then Pinbottle’s books went flying.”

This was, of course, an outright lie. Lupin gave him a quizzical look, and seemed about to say something, and doubtless would have had Snape not immediately begun speaking again.

“Miss Gash and Professor Flintrammel should be waiting outside at this moment,” he said smoothly. “Pomona, would you open the door for them, please?

She did, and in walked Princilla Gash. She was tall slice of a girl, arrogant and clever and beautiful in an almost androgynous way, her even features seemingly carved out of creamy white stone. She appeared organized and confident, smiling and meeting each professor’s eyes, and finally looking at Snape with a coy, knowing respect from under her lashes.

“Miss Gash,” he began, “please present your case.”

She had most obviously prepared, and brought with her the copious, beautifully calligraphed notes she had taken over the entire year, roll after roll of parchment, noting as well that she had attained perfect attendance. She spoke quite assuredly of her abilities, stating that her mastery of the subject was “most obviously at ‘O’ level.” She was a charismatic young woman, that was sure, and Snape felt an odd swelling of pride.

Meanwhile, Professor Flintrammel sat gazing at nothing in particular, and after Princilla had finished, made no attempt at all to defend the assigned grade, nor any to persuade the committee.

“Here are Princilla’s exams, the syllabus, and my grade book,” Professor Flintrammel said, placing the documents on the conference table. “I bow to the committee’s expertise, and I will change the grade, if necessary, to the one you feel Princilla deserves.”

Snape could not keep the small smile from creeping across his lips as his long fingers went to the parchments. “You will abide by it if higher than the one you have assigned?”

Professor Flintrammel nodded, casting a sidelong glance at the Slytherin girl. “If Princilla will abide by it if lower.”

At this Miss Gash was all too eager to agree. “Of course. I have enormous respect for the committee.” She put special emphasis on the last word, carefully excluding her Ancient Runes professor from that assessment.

Snape nodded. “You both are excused. You will be owled when the committee finishes its deliberations."

“Clever girl,” murmured Lupin after teacher and student had departed, “but her attitude leaves a bit to be desired.” At this he raised an eyebrow at Snape, who glared at him.

“I do not find it odd in the least that a student would demonstrate a negative attitude toward a professor who is clearly unsuited to teach at Hogwarts,” Snape said.

“Yes, Severus, we know all about your reservations regarding Professor Flintrammel,” Dumbledore said wearily, “but that does not excuse Princilla’s obvious disrespect. And it remains to be proven whether her self-confidence is warranted.”

Flitwick cleared his throat. “As to that matter, I’m afraid I must announce my utter lack of qualifications to make a judgement. I only received an E in sixth-year Ancient Runes myself, and have had no further training.”

Remus Lupin produced a rather battered looking box containing a Chocolate Frog. He allowed it two hops before he caught it and popped it into his mouth. “M’edcation is comp’rble, ‘mafraid.”

“Well, Herbology is pretty much the antithesis of Ancient Runes in every way possible,” said Sprout.

It turned out that of the five of them, Snape and Dumbledore were the only members of the committee with the extensive knowledge in Ancient Runes to make a truly accurate determination. Snape, with his meticulous penmanship and flair for languages, had been a natural at it, though he thought it rather boring in comparison to other subjects.

“You will just have to trust, then, in the judgement of Severus and myself,” said Dumbledore, motioning for the documents.

Without a word they were passed to him, and an unseen wind seemed to unroll them as he began to peruse Princilla’s work, and Professor Flintrammel’s. Severus watched carefully as the old ghost muttered to himself, nodding occasionally, but shaking his head more often yet. Finally he looked up.

“I would say Professor Flintrammel has been a bit generous,” Dumbledore said at last. “Not extremely so, of course. Princilla is a competent student. But had I been the one to assign Princilla a grade, she would have received merely an ‘Acceptable’.”

Snape’s heart sank, and Flitwick, Lupin, and Sprout all made annoying sorts of humming noises as the documents were then passed around to all of them. They quickly came to Snape, of course, and when they did he held them as if they were hot. Then he studied them for a long while, searching for any excuse to disagree. A good fifteen minutes passed in utter silence, as he looked admiringly at Princilla’s handwriting, having little else to truly recommend about her performance. Snape then thought perhaps he could find some weakness in the keeping of the marks, which might cause Princilla to be granted a higher grade (or at least a chance at retaking a test) on a technicality. Professor Flintrammel’s syllabus, however, was pristine, spelling out every technicality of the course in, of all things, encoded Futhark. As for the grade book, the students’ names (as well as the dates and the grades) written in Ogham, in turquoise ink. There were no blank spots, no cross outs, no sloppiness whatsoever.

“Severus, what do you think this work merits in terms of overall marks?” the headmaster asked at last, when it seemed that everyone was getting just a bit restless.

Damn Albus. Damn him to the seven hells.

“Acceptable,” Snape muttered.

The owls were sent, and within minutes Professor Flintrammel and Princilla Gash reappeared.

Snape waited for them to take their seats, then took a deep breath. “It is the judgement of this committee that Miss Gash receive an 'Acceptable' in Professor Flintrammel’s sixth-year Ancient Runes course.”

Professor Flintrammel merely nodded impassively, but a white fire kindled in Princilla’s eyes. She was furious.

“That’s not right…” she spat, pounding the table with her hand. “You can’t do that…”

“You agreed,” said Dumbledore, “just as your professor did.”

“I don’t care…I…I…” Princilla was quickly working herself up, Snape saw, to some sort of tantrum. The thought horrified him.

“Calm yourself, Miss Gash,” Dumbledore said softly, and Princilla immediately quieted. Then he turned to Flintrammel. “Professor,” he continued, “do you wish to change Miss Gash’s grade?”

There was an uncomfortably long silence, after which the Runes Studies professor looked up at the Headmaster. “Not at this point in time, though I reserve the right to do so at any time in the future.”

At this, Princilla looked as if she were going to say something, something angry, but Snape met her eyes and she looked down, breathing hard. Snape had to give his colleague credit. Princilla had no doubt been making subtle mischief in the Runes classroom for quite awhile, a vague sort of mischief that still had the ability to completely undermine a teacher’s authority. This equally vague yet profoundly powerful threat against Princilla’s grade would keep her in line.

Dumbledore stroked his misty beard thoughtfully. “Very well,” he said, “very well.” Then, “Princilla, you are excused.”

After Princilla had hastily collected her things and departed, everyone in the room seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. All but for Snape, that is.

“Well done!” said Flitwick to Professor Flintrammel, clapping his hands together.

“Indeed!” echoed Sprout, “very clever!”

Lupin was rooting in that damnable bag again. “Have a Chocolate Frog,” he said, as one hopped towards the Runes professor, who caught it happily.

Snape surveyed the cheerful scene with no small disgust. “Meeting adjourned,” he growled, and feeling a mood most foul descending upon him, immediately went to his rooms, the sound of chatter and laughter fading behind him.

A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 5]

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