There were some days when it simply didn't pay to go to work. Well, not that working actually paid much anyway, but that wasn't the point. Severus found over the years that it was practically impossible to not go to work when one lived and worked in the same building for most of the year. Really, the geographical convenience fell short when compared to the advantages of say, skiving off and pretending that he had an important job in the real world away from hormonal teenagers with dunderheaded tendencies, or his colleagues, come to that. He wasn't bitter or anything though.
It was really to be expected that the one morning of his miserable life that was actually starting off well, would end up going horribly wrong. He knew it was too good to be true- really. But for the joke to be effective he had to be lulled into a false sense of security and calm tranquility. Life, it seemed, surely liked to screw around with Severus Snape.
For once, Severus had actually got eight hours of sleep. He was always happy to leave Spinner's End too. Then, there was the fact that there would be no students at the school yet, which was definitely another plus. He was also looking forward to a good coffee. It would be a Sumatra blend with no cream- black. He even imagined the contentment he would feel while drinking it. He wouldn't go so far as to say happy, because that would certainly take him far away from Hogwarts, but he found himself rapidly approaching a level where he could tolerate things that morning.
Minerva had even greeted him kindly upon his arrival, which meant no harping. It was nice. Severus was spared from such scintillating conversational topics as being unfair to her Gryffindors or that coffee habit affecting his long-term dental hygiene. Failing that, she was always good for talking Quidditch. Well, to be fair, she never actually failed to talk about Quidditch at all. Trust old McGonagall to know exactly how many points Gryffindor had over Slytherin since Potter Jr. Good times. Good company. Good God. That right there should have been his clue; too many great things happening at once. Something had to give.
It came in the form of the staff meeting. But, the fool that he was, Severus decided to go. Not that he had a choice in the matter. He didn't. He was a Hogwarts employee and not going could have been misconstrued as insubordination. Not that Albus would have fired him for not going; which made him wonder why he actually ever went to these gatherings, because he shouldn't have. Ah yes, his good mood. Severus had his guard down and all that. If nothing else was to be learned from his experience, it was that he would forever remember his reasons for being foul tempered and generally disagreeable.
Severus held the plate in his hand- if one could even call it a plate. It was tiny, it was Muggle, and he only knew that because he had no idea what it was constructed of. Foam? Actually, come to think of it, he had more than one plate. He attempted to take one from the stack and couldn't pry it away from a few others. He only gave up when he heard Minerva sigh loudly.
"What in Hades is this?" he hissed to Minerva.
She pursed her lips at him.
"I should think it obvious, Severus. This is our first staff meeting of the school year."
Severus gave Minerva a look, and then turned back to the table in front of him in disgust.
"The house-elves did not put this spread together."
If they had, then the lot of them needed to be given clothes.
"Albus had mentioned something about giving the house-elves a much needed break."
"If I didn't know better, I'd say that Granger menace had something to do with this. Look at this, Minerva! This isn't food."
Minerva leaned in closer to him.
"Rumor has it that Miss Granger and Miss Lovegood both approached Albus at the end of last term. One mentioned the lack of proper dental health in the Wizarding World, and the other mentioned something called the Rotfang Conspiracy infiltrating the Ministry of Magic. The two girls managed to convince him that we needed more healthy menu items."
Severus was appalled. He didn't even know what to say to that, which was just as well, because Sprout decided to add her two Knuts.
"Well I -for one- am glad, because I'm trying to lose a little weight."
Murmurs of agreement could be heard around him and Severus decided that he couldn't keep silent any longer. He looked down at himself. Yes, still just as lanky as ever. He then looked intently back to Sprout.
"So, the obvious solution is to deprive the rest of us," Severus responded dryly.
"No need to be dramatic, boy. You know how Albus likes to listen to student input."
"But we're not even in term yet. There are no students here, thank Merlin," Severus muttered before he chanced a glance back at the table. "My God, is that supposed to be a muffin?"
He reluctantly picked one up and placed it dead center on top of the Muggle foam. He was not about to eat it however, as he knew Albus well enough to know he'd be harassed if he were to be seen without something. He then walked over to the beverage center and picked up a foam cup. He hoped foam wasn't carcinogenic. Coffee seemed a safe option as compared to the individual tea bags in bright Muggle wrappers. Who knew how old those things were. They had a very 1970s look to them. Yes, Severus was definitely looking forward to some coffee.
Severus was about to head to his usual spot at the table before he realized that it wasn't the usual long table, but a very large round one instead. He sighed and sat as far away from Flitwick as he could. Flitwick had been looking at him all morning as if he wanted to talk, and Severus had decided against making it easy for him, especially in light of the Lovegood revelation. The man obviously needed to take more of a firm hand with his Ravenclaws.
He took a sip of coffee only to spit it back out again immediately. Whatever that was it was not coffee. He looked around. Nobody had seen him. Good. Minerva sat next to him.
"Don't drink the coffee. I think it's been poisoned."
"I personally made the coffee, Severus. I can assure you that it hasn't been poisoned."
Now that he was thinking about it, why was he even speaking to Minerva? Granger was in her house.
"That wasn't coffee."
"It's French Vanilla flavored coffee."
"As I said. If I had wanted sweet coffee, I would have added the sugar myself. As it is, it's vile."
Severus felt that he was in an intolerable situation. Maybe the tea was the safer option after all. One foam cup of hot water and a dodgy looking tea bag later- it said that it was Darjeeling, but Severus wasn't holding his breath- and he returned to the table only to find Albus on the other side of him. Fantastic.
"Ah, Severus! I see you have one of the bran muffins that I made. Splendid! Healthy choices will see us far in life."
There was no way in Hades he was going to eat the muffin now.
"You know, when I woke up this morning, the first thing on my mind was healthy breakfast items."
Albus laughed merrily.
"I'm so glad, Severus."
Severus gritted his teeth. He was calm, he was centered, and his mind was clear- he was at one with the universe. Another potential homicidal rage diverted- only just barely. None of them realized how lucky they were.
"Welcome back, everyone! I trust we all had a pleasant summer?"
Flitwick immediately began droning about his fabulous holiday to Cancun, and everyone was simply so interested. 'Oh, that's fantastic, Filius!' 'Is it as wonderful as everyone says, Filius?' 'Blah, blah, blah.' Severus snorted. Everyone looked at him.
"All right, Severus?" Flitwick asked.
Everyone continued to stare at him.
"I live near a river." There, that should explain it. However, they kept staring, so he felt compelled to add, "Mold spores." Things were turning awkward and he muttered, "Muggle thing."
Some nodded thoughtfully before turning back to Flitwick, who continued to regale them all with tales of suntans and Mai Tais. Then, he turned to Severus and had the absolute gall to ask him what he had done during the break.
"I'm sorry, you'll have to speak up a bit more, Filius. Being so far down on the other side of the table, those of us up here are having difficulty hearing you."
Filius' smirk immediately turned into a glare, which caused Severus to smirk nastily, thereby, once again, restoring much needed balance to the universe.
Minerva stepped on his foot.
"Get off my foot, woman."
"Well, before we get to the fun part of the agenda, we have time to address some immediate concerns. Does anyone want to begin?" Albus asked.
Severus rolled his eyes. It was Sprout. She always brought up something tedious- and she had lackeys to support her. Pince and Pomfrey always supported whatever inane issues she presented.
"We have got to do something about enforcing appropriate dress code at this school. While some of us are consistent in enforcing it…" Here she gave a significant pause so as to share commiserating looks with her two lackeys. "Others of us don't do nearly enough."
Both lackeys gave the appropriate responses expected of lackeys everywhere. "Oh yes! You're so right." "Tsk! Such a problem. Definitely needs to be addressed."
Filius spoke up, "Well, some of us are more concerned with academics. Plus, I don't feel very comfortable in telling a female student that she's inappropriately dressed."
"It's quite simple. Say the following: Detention, Miss Fill-In-The-Blank, for being out of Hogwarts uniform," Sprout continued pompously.
"You know as well as I do, Pomona, that some girls these days accuse male professors of harassment."
"Filius must be especially careful," Severus added. "I mean, a girl with a particularly short skirt, and him being so…well…short and everything himself…mention the dress code and detention in the same sentence, and they'd think he was a lech who just wanted to look at their knickers."
"Put a lot of thought into this, have you, Severus?" Minerva asked dryly.
"Just looking out for the best interests of the least among us, Minerva."
Filius actually stood up in his seat and looked ready to come after him with his wand.
Severus muttered quietly, "Bring it on, mi…what the…Minerva?"
His foot was hurting badly and he turned to glare at her. He sighed.
Severus continued muttering quietly, "Bring it on, little person. Happy, Minerva?"
Minerva whispered, "Part goblin, Severus. Part goblin."
It's not as if Filius heard him anyway. The pressure immediately lifted from his foot.
"Well, Severus, what is it that you do?" Flitwick challenged.
"I've been telling you lot for years that condescending glares, dismissive sneers, and endless ridicule is very off-putting to hormonal teenage girls. They don't bother coming to my class inappropriately attired."
There really wasn't anything they could say to that- well, Severus could think of a few things- though they didn't. Nevertheless, it didn't stop Albus from giving Severus a disappointed look. Severus chose to raise a questioning eyebrow before attempting to ignore the rest of the meeting. He was almost successful too, until he realized that fifty minutes later, after counting the various inlaid diamonds on the wood table, they hadn't moved forward at all. They were still discussing the bloody dress code.
"Now, is there anything else? We discussed the dress code…" Albus began.
"Really? I've already forgotten the pertinent points. Could you recap for me? Perhaps put it in a memorandum?"
Albus simply gave Severus a level stare, which compelled Severus to fold his arms and insolently lean back in his chair.
"Any other topics?" Albus repeated again.
"School budget," Severus immediately responded.
Albus looked momentarily hopeful, but it only gave Severus more satisfaction. He lived to dash Albus' hopes.
"Do we need to petition the Ministry for more funds, for instance? I admit to being a bit concerned."
Everyone else was starting to think he was serious as well, which was even better, as far as Severus was concerned.
"How so, Severus?"
Severus merely held up his muffin. Everyone groaned. Hagrid was looking so intently at the muffin that Severus chucked it at his head. The half-giant was sure to be hungry, so Severus was actually doing him a favor.
"Very well. We've got three more items on the agenda for today. Looking over the staff handbook, discussing the Hogwarts Educational Decrees left over from the High Inquisitor's reign- in this case- revising our individual Philosophy of Education, and a little extra surprise."
And it had better be fantastic after the disaster that was breakfast, was all Severus could think.
Albus didn't look too happy, but he answered anyway.
"We'll have lunch at some point, Severus, yes. Now, on to the staff handbook."
Severus mentally groaned. It was more like the staff codex. It was significantly larger than a Muggle phone book and they had to go through it every single blasted school year. It would be one thing if Albus allowed anyone to tune out the discussion. Unfortunately, he often had them take turns reading pertinent sections out loud. Of course, it didn't stop Severus from drifting away when Binns' turn came.
He came to with a sharp poke in his ribs from Minerva. He was so startled that he even drew his wand. The whole table was staring at him, and Severus lowered his wand slowly and probably even blushed. It was like being a student all over again.
"Albus has been attempting to get your attention," she whispered to him.
"What page are we on?"
Minerva sighed amusedly. "Do you want me to do your homework for you too?"
"We're on disaster drills, Severus," Albus responded. "Please start at the beginning of that section and continue on until I ask you to stop."
Severus glared at everyone and then opened his personal copy of the massive staff codex. He took a breath to read and immediately a scream of outrage was heard from Pince before he could even begin.
"What have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?"
Severus hastily snatched his copy of the staff codex off the table as she lunged at it with a clawlike hand.
"Despoiled!" she hissed. "Desecrated! Befouled!"
Severus immediately recognized Pince's problem and gave her an evil smirk.
"Does it bother you, Madam, that I write in all of my books?"
It was chaos on her side of the table and he received plenty of reproving glares from- at least- half the staff. Severus resolutely ignored them and took great pleasure in making a huge production of placing his desecrated codex on the table and began reading without further ado.
"Disaster Drills. Per Ministry guidelines, Hogwarts is required to hold various emergency drills during each term…" Severus looked around him. "This is rubbish. I'd bet some serious galleons that it was Godric Gryffindor who wrote this. They probably even gave him a medal for it. I can see him talking to the Board of Governors about it now… 'And this is the room where I wrote the staff handbook codex…my greatest achievement.' You know, I think I need to add that one to the margin."
Severus picked up a quill and proceeded to do just that- to Pince's absolute disgust.
"How do you spell Gryffindor, Minerva? With one f or two? I always forget."
"For pity's sake, Severus, can't we get through one meeting, just one, without you feeling compelled to…" someone said. It sounded like Hooch.
"To what? This is torture. Every year we sit through the same information. We all have a copy. If you're too dunderheaded to have read it the first time, then…bloody hell, Minerva!"
"You'll have to excuse Severus today. He didn't actually get his usual caffeine intake."
Severus couldn't help but notice that some- all right, most- of the staff looked horrified at this statement. So what if he had a reputation for being a right git without caffeine? It wasn't his fault Albus gave the house-elves the day off. However, only Dumbledore found this to be a good thing.
"Ah, you really are making some healthier choices. Good for you, Severus!"
In the blackest depths of his heart- Severus really did hope that Albus was purposefully attempting to be just that annoying. It was insufferable to think that a person could naturally be that cheerful and optimistic.
"In any case, we need to move along with our agenda. The Ministry wants a Philosophy of Education from each of us. I have to agree that it's a good idea. I have the drafts that you each submitted last year. We're going to go over them now with a partner and make any changes that need to be done. Severus, you're with me."
Severus gave Albus a wan smile. He was certain that it came out as more of grimace though. There was nothing to be done for it. He vaguely noticed everyone else pairing up and talking. It just wasn't fair that he was the one who had to partner Albus. They all looked so carefree.
"You know, Severus, I was looking over the Philosophy of Education that you submitted for Ministry review. You're going to have to make some changes before sending it on," Albus told Severus, while peering down his spectacles at a piece of parchment on the table.
What? That was an absolutely brilliant piece of fiction, if Severus did say so himself. "Oh?" he asked in a perplexed manner. He knew what Albus was getting at, but it wouldn't do to act as if he did.
"Yes, the introduction, especially, starting with, 'There's an old Japanese Proverb that says, 'If you believe everything you read, better not read.' I think this is a particularly apt quotation to relate to what follows, in regard to this, my Philosophy of Education.' It isn't quite what the Ministry wanted," Albus continued calmly.
"But if you take that out, the rest is ruined," Severus retorted airily. At Albus' skeptical glance, he sighed. "Fine, I'll retract the introduction."
"Severus, really, the rest is just as…farfetched. 'Children are a joy and a pleasure to those of us whose only goal in life is to fill their inquisitive little minds with knowledge?'" Albus said as he glanced to Severus incredulously. "And don't tell me that," he looked to the parchment again before continuing, "seeing their glowing faces is one of your greatest joys as an educator, Severus."
"Albus," Severus stated placatingly, but he didn't get the chance to finish.
"But you go on, don't you? 'I had so many wonderful experiences in school myself, and only look back with gratitude to my own teachers for instilling such a passion for learning into me. What better way to give back to society than to pass this love of learning on to the next generation?' Oh, and my personal favorite, 'I liken them to a potion that has reached a critical stage of the brewing process. Improperly brewed, the effects can be devastating. Safety first isn't just a good idea for the lab, but is an apt metaphor for how to handle students.' That's a bit much, even for you," Albus said while sighing resignedly.
"I will not take out the potion metaphor," Severus muttered stubbornly. He was beginning to warm up to his subject. "Or the ending. I'm not changing that either."
"Ah, the ending. 'Some may find me self-deprecating when I say this, but seeing my students excel in life is the true reward for this teacher. Not an Order of Merlin First Class, or a glowing article in the The Daily Prophet. I'll leave that to others. Their successes are my reward.' I don't think that anyone who knows you would believe this," Albus said. He looked tired.
Severus had been banking on the fact that no one he knew would ever read it. That was the point. Nobody really ever read that sort of thing, except Albus apparently. The point was, the Ministry expected a certain response, so Severus, being the good minion that he was, would give them exactly what they wanted. No fuss, no worries, no problem.
Once again, and Severus couldn't reiterate this enough, his day still wasn't all that it could be. Albus frequently invited him for private tête-à-têtes in his office to discuss his 'appalling lack of empathy towards students of other houses.' In comparison, this wasn't anywhere approaching the worst of Albus' tirades against his person. It was mild. Severus was getting off lightly. He would be out of the hot seat in less than ten minutes and on his merry, unsuspecting way.
Except that he wasn't. Severus found himself reluctantly agreeing to make the changes. He thought it would have been enough to placate Albus for the day. How wrong he was. If only it were so. Severus blindly reached toward the agenda sitting innocently on the table to pick it up and knew, just knew, that the look on Albus Dumbledore's face could only bode ill for him. It was the look of a man intensely interested in the outcome of his fate. It was a look of morbid curiosity hidden behind an intense relief that it wasn't him on the receiving end of what was about to happen.
With a feeling of mounting dread, Severus looked down at the fun and mysterious agenda item that Albus had been referring to the entire morning, only to look back at the man before him in dawning horror. Severus had to think fast. Yes, he planned for contingencies such as this. Everything would be fine.
"You'll have to excuse me, Albus. I need to go to the toilet. It must be the bran."
Severus hastily stood up from his chair and then began searching frantically in his frock coat before pulling out a piece of folded parchment.
"However, before I leave, I'm just going to hand you this piece of parchment here."
"What is it, Severus?"
"We'll discuss it when I return. However, right now I'm in a bit of a hurry."
Severus frantically made his way to the door only to find it locked.
"Locked! Let me out!"
"Now, Severus, had you actually needed to go to the toilet, the door would have opened immediately. It's a special charm."
"You let me out of this room right now, old man!"
"Now, Severus. It's not going to be that bad. You might even wind up enjoying it. Ah, speaking of…Fawkes!"
The phoenix immediately appeared and incinerated Severus' parchment before flying around the room singing and perching on the back of Albus' chair.
"Oh, you naughty bird! What have I told you about touching parchment right before a burning day? What did it say, Severus?"
"If you must know, it was a letter of resignation."
Minerva started snickering.
"You mean to tell me that you've taken to carrying one on your person now?"
"I believe in being prepared."
Albus started laughing too.
"You know, you never ate a bran muffin. It was a nice effort up until then. What was it last year, Minerva?"
"A last minute conflicting meeting with the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers, I believe," she responded.
"You can't make me do this, Albus. You've gone too far this time," Severus seethed.
"Nonsense! All right, everyone! The moment we've all been waiting for. I wanted to find a way for every student to feel respected- like they have a voice. Well, I've discovered this wonderful Muggle program, where every morning a professor has all of the students to get into a circle- and, oh my- this is quite exciting- they greet each other, and have an activity- a game if you will. Most of it is about building bonds of trust and respect and getting to know each other better. We're going to model it this morning. That's why we have a circular table. I was thinking that each of us could host such a group every morning after breakfast."
Severus really hated Albus sometimes.
"You know, Albus, that the only reason the students will like this is because it cuts into academic time," Severus gave his first serious response of the morning.
He was really hoping that Flitwick would see it too. However, Flitwick was feeling quite vindictive and sent him a smirk.
"I think it is a wonderful idea, Albus!" the Charms professor responded enthusiastically.
Severus was seething and it wasn't even time for lunch.
"What is for lunch, Minerva?" he whispered frantically to her.
She glanced worriedly at him before moving her chair away from him.
"Minerva. What. Is. For. Lunch?"
"Well, Severus, you see… Albus mentioned that Aberforth offered to cater…"
Yes, that was all Severus heard, but it was enough. Aberforth indeed. Anything involving Dumbledore's even barmier brother definitely couldn't be good, could it?
"Will there be Firewhisky?"
"Minerva? Will. There. Be. Firewhisky?"
She actually patted his hand consolingly.
"This day will be over before you know it, Severus. Think of that."
Severus was not at all ashamed to say that murder was on his mind before turning back to the meeting. It couldn't be over soon enough for his liking. However, if anyone could find a way to thwart Albus' circle of respect- then it was Severus. He would find a way or die trying.
"Okay, Severus. It's your turn to ask a question to the group that each of us has to answer. Part of the getting to know you games we'll be employing throughout the year."
Severus immediately smirked.
"Well, as I'm sure you all know by now, the only reason I'm a teacher is because I'm being blackmailed by Albus. My question to you all is this: What does he have on the rest of you to get you to stay?"
Everyone started to look distinctly uncomfortable and Severus' smirk widened. Albus was even giving stern looks of warning around the circle. Ah, success at last.
"You're so right, Albus. Maybe this will be a wonderful program to implement. Really, the possibilities with the students are endless, as well. Splendid idea you had."
Albus was even looking slightly alarmed now. Perfect. It was just another staff meeting. Maybe this year wouldn't be so bad, after all.
Author's Note: I hope you all enjoy reading this as much I enjoyed writing it. Please read and review.