Barely fifteen minutes after the miserable inquiry’s adjournment, someone was rapping at his study door.
“Enter…” Snape intoned, not looking up from his grading. An awful day. Terrible. And now he was being assaulted by visitors. He heard the heavy door creak open and then close softly.
“I am occupied, Flintrammel,” Snape said at last with some disgust, barely glancing up. “The inquiry is over, and has been decided in your favor.”
“I came to thank you for your…”
“Your thanks are not only unnecessary, but also irrelevant,” Snape interrupted. “You may go.”
Professor Flintrammel’s foot then began tapping admonishingly on his stone floor. “That is no way to make a visitor and a colleague, I would add, feel welcome.”
Snape still did not look up. “Your powers of observation are second to none. My behavior is indeed no way to make a visitor and a colleague feel welcome,” Snape said, eyeing the unwelcome presence in his office balefully. “Perhaps that should serve as some sort of hint.”
But then, in a manner of seconds, Professor Flintrammel was to his great shock suddenly settled upon his desk, mere inches from his quill. “My thanks may be irrelevant to you, but it’s not very courteous of you to point that out,” the Runes professor said, “and I’ve told you over and over again that you can call me Jane.”
Snape’s concentration broke, then, and he glared up at the Ancient Runes professor at last. There was a small, slightly superior smile on her face.
“Jane. J. A. N. E. Say it. Jane.”
Severus Snape felt his quill bending as his hand tightened upon it. “Remove your posterior from my desk, Flintrammel.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Remove your posterior from my desk, Jane. And I sat on it because after more than a year of teaching at Hogwarts I think I deserve to have a conversation with you in which you actually meet my eyes. Not once have you looked right at me, even when I have spoken directly to you. I know you weren’t pleased at my hire; that was plain enough. And last year was quite a strain on everyone. But Voldemort is dead, so I fail to understand how….”
“Silence!” Snape spat.
Jane Flintrammel quieted immediately, staring at him.
“As we have indeed been colleagues for a more than a year, I would assume you have ascertained something of my character,” Snape said, tamping down his initial urge to throttle her. “I am at a loss to explain how you could possibly think that I would elaborate on my behavior simply to satisfy your curiosity.”
“It’s not curiosity,” Jane insisted. “I would like to be treated with a certain amount of collegial respect. Your refusal to acknowledge my presence is rude in the extreme.”
Snape continued to seethe, but remained quiet for a moment. It was in fact his practice as a Legilimens not to meet the eyes of anyone he considered irrelevant. Still, how dare she, with such intolerable self-satisfaction, make such ingratiating demands? But then a slightly wicked idea began to percolate in his head. His eyes gleamed from under his curtain of black hair.
“Polite inattention does not suit you then?” he said smoothly.
She stared at him primly. “There is no such thing as ‘polite inattention’ in academia. ‘Polite inattention’ in this situation is nothing less than a demonstration of outright disapproval and you know it. You may disapprove, but you should at least acknowledge me respectfully.”
So he leaned back slowly, allowing his intense black gaze to travel over her. “You want me to acknowledge you, to…look at you?”
She blinked a few times, saying nothing. But under the weight of his stare, her eyes roved downward. “Well, I mean, meet my eyes at least, I…”
“Mission accomplished, Flintrammel,” he interrupted. I have now, indeed, looked at you.”
At this she was utterly at a loss. Good.
“It appears you are a woman of thirty or so, average height, with an agreeable enough, though rather nondescript face.”
“That’s not what I…”
Snape stood now and began to circle her, stroking his chin with his fingers, appraising her with a piercing stare as if she were the spoor of some mysterious animal.
“You appear to be fairly hardy, physically,” he continued. “Broad shoulders for a woman, with a sturdy and generously padded frame. From the look of your build in general you would make quite a good breeder. What do you weigh? One hundred fifty pounds at least, I would think.”
At this Snape could actually see her nostrils flare.
“And here I came to thank you,” she said, obviously outraged. Then she turned on her heel and was halfway across the room before Snape continued.
“Now, as for your hair…it is slightly wavy, long, and a vague sort of reddish brown. You usually braid it into a thick plait and pin it to the top of your head. And you seem to have purchased new glasses recently,” he said, “tortoiseshell oval frames instead of your usual black. You are not quite close enough for me to determine the exact color or your eyes, but please don’t interpret that comment as an invitation to move closer.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that…” she said, as derisively as she could manage.
“Now, as for your attire, you are wearing your customary garb. You are forbidden from wearing robes, of course, as you are not a witch. So you make an attempt to mimic robes by draping yourself in various woolen frocks that come to rest at mid calf, and oversized cardigans that could easily retain the bulk of Henry the Eighth. As for your feet, you wear plain, low-heeled shoes or boots of obvious Muggle origin.”
Jane scowled. “Are you going to speculate about the nature of my knickers as well?”
Snape grunted. Her sense of humor, such as it was, was unbearably coarse. “If your sensibilities there are in line with your other predilections regarding your clothes, I would guess white, extremely modest, with some sort of unpretentious frill at that waist and legs.”
The look of utter, shocked anger on her face would have told him he had hit his mark, even if he hadn’t been a Legilimens.
“You are insufferable…” she said angrily. Her face had gone crimson, and noting this with no small satisfaction, Snape sat down again and bent his gaze back to his papers. He expected to presently hear his office door slamming, but no such sound was forthcoming, and when he looked up he could see that she had set her hands on her hips and was obviously readying herself for another thoroughly useless attempt to chastise him.
“It’s painfully obvious that you don’t approve of me and you never have, despite all my efforts to be friendly,” she said, “and as you’re far too smart to be truly prejudiced against me, I’m wondering why. As you point out so very eloquently, there is nothing outright offensive about the way I appear, though it may not meet your pedestrian standard of feminine pulchritude.”
“My standard of feminine pulchritude is hardly the…”
“Does my voice cause some sort of harmonic convergence in your brain?”
Snape turned over the essay he was grading to scratch a large, flourished ‘D’ upon the last page. “Your voice is only bothersome inasmuch as it is the vehicle by which you ask impertinent questions.”
“So, Professor Snape, why don’t you approve of me? Is my smell offensive?”
Snape continued grading, refusing to meet her eyes. “That depends on your criteria. You, Flintrammel, are partial to a soap that contains ginger and vanilla. The previous Ancient Runes professor reeked of pickled fish, and thus you are in that regard at least a distinct improvement.”
“How very kind of you to notice that I don’t smell like pickled fish,” Jane said sarcastically.
“You also bribe a certain house-elf to provide you with hot chocolate, the aroma of which also often lingers on you as well. You like it with marshmallows.”
At this she actually stamped her foot. “I don’t bribe him!”
“Then Knortle must be infatuated with you. Congratulations.”
The Runes professor, Snape noted, was absolutely furious now, and Snape had to admit he was enjoying baiting her more than he had enjoyed anything in a long while, especially since Potter had grown so tolerant.
“I suppose I should put camphor behind my ears and drink nothing but strong black tea and whiskey,” she said angrily, “then I’d smell like a proper Potions professor, wouldn’t I?”
Snape looked up, raising an eyebrow. “Yes, why yes you would.”
“Perhaps then you would treat me a bit more decently.”
Snape smiled icily. “Not likely.”
Finally, just as Snape thought he could actually begin to see steam coming out of her ears, Jane completely lost her temper.
“Will you please just tell me what on god’s green earth is your fucking problem?” she fairly shouted.
And at last, Snape thought it was finally time to cut her down to size. He waited a few moments, and then he stood again, slowly, glaring at her.
“Professor…” he began, his voice laced with sarcasm, “my lack of regard for you has nothing to do with how you look, or how you sound, what kind of soap you are prone to use, or anything else as simple-minded as that. I protest your presence here because of what you are. A Squib. You are utterly bereft of magical ability. You do not belong here.”
Jane looked down, stiffening. She was insulted, probably hurt as well. But that was not his concern.
Finally she spoke. “Albus thinks I belong here. He sought me out, in fact. Made quite a point of saying what a good fit I would be. I don’t think you’re being very fair.”
Snape folded his arms across his chest. “In case you haven’t noticed, I care little about what is fair. I care about how things are supposed to be. And Squibs are not supposed to be teaching at Hogwarts. It’s improper, foolish, and outright dangerous.”
Jane set her chin defiantly, and put her hands on her hips. “You’re entirely wrong. I think I have adjusted rather well and have been doing nicely. My semester reviews have all been glowing, and Albus thinks…”
At the second mention of Albus, something in Snape’s head seemed to snap, and all of a sudden he found himself shaking with anger.
“Albus is dead!” he shouted, pounding the table.
His vehemence surprised even himself, and for a long while there was merely silence, as Jane stared at him blankly, and Snape waited for the fury and frustration to ebb out of him. But then she met his eyes, and Snape let out a sigh, for what he saw there, despite everything, was a great sympathy. Not many had sympathy for him these days, especially with regard to the “murder” of Dumbledore, notwithstanding the headmaster’s judicious attempts to absolve him. The fact that Dumbledore was now a ghost seemed to invalidate anything positive he might say about the man who made him so.
Jane looked down at last, and when she spoke, her voice was quiet, her anger upended entirely. “Yes, yes he is…” she said softly. “It’s rather unsettling, isn’t it? Especially for you, I suppose…”
The unexpected kindness in Professor Flintrammel’s voice bled all the fight out of him, damn her, and he was suddenly exhausted.
“Professor Flintrammel, you have no idea,” he said wearily, lowering himself into his chair and plucking up the next ungraded quiz.
Jane sat again on his desk again as well, perching herself tentatively on the edge this time, pondering. Snape merely glanced at the curve of her thigh, and attempted to ignore her.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to it,” she murmured. “Have you gotten used to it?”
Severus Snape knew he would never get used to Dumbledore as a ghost, a disembodied personality with barely the power to summon a puff of wind. “No,” he said at last. “I have not.”
“Do you think we’ll ever be able to?”
Snape emitted another tired, longsuffering sigh. “I expect we must, eventually,” he said, “as his death only seems to have rendered his presence more permanent than ever.”
There was a long silence then, as Snape began grading again, and Jane Flintrammel made no move to leave. Finally he looked up at her, a look of weary impatience on his face, and he saw that she had been staring at him, a slight smile playing on her lips.
He met her eyes and, in a flash, he saw what she’d been thinking as she had watched him grading his papers. And Severus Snape flinched then, as if struck, and his eyes went wide, while Jane Flintrammel merely stared at him with a look as innocent as it was friendly.
“Something wrong, Professor?” she asked.
“I…I accept your thanks,” he said stiffly, “now if you don’t mind…”
She nodded. “Of course. And I’m glad we had this little talk.” She eased herself off of his desk.
Severus Snape did not answer. And he most certainly did not look up. He pretended to read the paper he was grading, though in truth not one jot of it reached his brain, which now seemed to be buzzing slightly.
“Please,” he blurted testily, “I…I have a good deal of grading to do at present, so if you don’t mind…”
“I just wanted to wish you a good afternoon.”
He looked up again then, and she was again smiling, this time with an almost indulgent look on her face, as if she had already forgiven him. It was most disconcerting, and he looked away quickly.
“Good afternoon,” he said sharply.
She nodded, satisfied, and then turning on her comfortable Muggle heels, she left his office and went humming up the stairs, not noticing the Potions professor staring after her with a very curious expression, an expression that on another face might have looked something like surprise.