A Noble and Arduous Challenge
Severus Snape, the new Headmaster, paced his office. The weird objects that Dumbledore used to keep there still cluttered the room - Severus hadn't had time to think about something as inconsequential as the office decoration yet. The war had ended, fortunately with the Dark Lord's defeat. Many wizards and witches had died, though, and the Wizarding World was in ruins. Hogwarts stood virtually undamaged, but many students and teachers had perished. The irreparable loss of Dumbledore and Minerva had raised Severus to the position of Headmaster. Sprout hadn't survived either, and the last teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts, who had finally been revealed as a spy for the Dark Lord, had been imprisoned in Azkaban.
The Order of the Phoenix had lost many of its members. Among them, Remus Lupin and Bill Weasley.
The final battle had been fought in July, right after the final exams. A month later, Severus had been appointed Headmaster - and not a moment too soon, if he was to have the school fully staffed and ready for the students to return in September.
He thanked the gods for having spared Filius Flitwick. The tiny wizard was one of the most proficient in his subject, and Severus had always got along well with him. Besides being the Charms teacher and Head of Ravenclaw, Filius would be the Deputy-Headmaster as well.
It hadn't been difficult to find a substitute for Sprout. In spite of being a disaster in Potions, Neville Longbottom was a respectable Herbologist. Severus had had to swallow his pride and approach him. It hadn't been easy, but Severus was, above all, a pragmatic man, and he wanted the best for the school he was going to run.
To teach Transfiguration, Severus had invited Nymphadora Tonks. She had accepted enthusiastically.
Severus didn't trust anyone to teach Potions in his place. He decided to continue teaching; at the same time, he would prepare Blaise Zabini, his best student in Potions, to succeed him. Until then, Blaise would be a substitute Potions teacher and Head of Slytherin - a tremendous responsibility for a young and unexperienced wizard, but with Severus as Headmaster, Blaise would receive all the necessary support.
The major problems still unsolved were: how to fill the Defence Against the Dark Arts post and who was going to be the Head of Gryffindor.
Every time he thought about it, his inner voice would whisper the same answer to both problems: "Harry Potter". That was an impossible solution, though. While he had established a respectful relationship with Potter during the war, Severus knew that Potter wanted to keep his distance from Hogwarts and the Wizarding World.
Curiously, Severus was the only one who knew Potter's whereabouts. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, Potter had disappeared. After the end of the war, Potter had asked him to cast Fidelius on the cottage he had just bought in Wales. Potter had been peremptory: he had chosen Severus because, of the people he trusted, Severus was the only one who wouldn't want to go after him. Potter wanted to stay away from everything that could remind him of the Wizarding World.
What a bitter irony!
However, the more he thought about it, the more it became clear to Severus that there wasn't any other option. He would have to betray Potter's confidence and break his isolation. Potter wasn't going to welcome Severus's visit, particularly when he discovered the reason for it. Severus was sure Potter would try to eject him from his house as fast as he could. The insufferable brat, who happened to be the most powerful wizard in the world, hated him, and if he decided to cast Avada Kedavra for the second time in his life, Severus wouldn't want to be in his line of fire.
But there was something worse than an Avada Kedavra for Severus: to have his pride wounded. And that was what he was risking when he decided to pay a call to Harry Potter by a remote beach in the south of Wales.
~* ~* ~
Severus knocked on the cottage's door. Although it was summer, a cold wind was blowing. Severus straightened, smoothed his robes and waited, his heart hammering in his chest.
Finally, the door was opened. "Snape!"
"Er..." The young wizard looked embarrassed. "Come in." Potter stepped aside, to let Severus enter. "Excuse the mess." He gathered a pile of papers that were spread on his sofa and lay them on the coffee table. "Have a seat, please. What happened to bring you here?"
Severus sat on the sofa. "Nothing happened," Severus answered, trying to remember the speech he had planned.
Potter sat in an armchair facing Severus. "So... to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
Severus looked around the sitting room. Except for the papers, everything seemed in place. It was a simple room: a sofa, two armchairs, a coffee table, a fireplace. Potter's Firebolt was propped in a corner. "Are you writing your memoirs?" Severus asked, trying to gain time.
Potter blushed. "How did you guess?"
The words were on the tip of his tongue: The world has always revolved around you, hasn't it, Potter? What would you write about if not about yourself? But Severus had to swallow the words. After all, he was here to try to convince Potter to return to Hogwarts with him. "It's a rather common phenomenon that, after important events, people would want to write about them. It helps them to reflect upon what happened."
"Are you reading my thoughts, Snape?"
Severus snorted. "I wouldn't be as foolish as to attempt to break into the mind of such a powerful Occlumens as you are, Potter."
"Humm... You've never praised me before. You're beginning to scare me. Why did you come, anyway?"
Severus took a deep breathe. Potter knew him too well to let himself be fooled. Unfortunately, he would have to be straightforward. "As you might already know, I am the new Headmaster of Hogwarts."
"I haven't read the news, but I was expecting it. No one is better prepared than you for this position."
"I won't say I'm flattered, considering all the casualties we had. The only other possible candidate would have been Flitwick, but he has goblin blood in his veins."
"Still prejudiced, Snape?"
"I am not prejudiced! The Board of Governors and the Ministry are."
"I see. It's true; the whole Wizarding World is rather conservative. Very well. So you're the new Headmaster. Congratulations, but... I hope you don't feel insulted by my comment... what do I have to do with this?"
Severus took another deep breathe. "I need to fill the vacancies on Hogwarts' Staff. I nominated your friend Longbottom for the post of Herbology teacher..."
"Neville! That's great! It's a shame we've lost Sprout, but Neville was a perfect choice, Snape."
"Naturally. Even the dunderheads in the Board of Governors had to agree. They also approved my nomination of Nymphadora Tonks for the Transfiguration post." Severus shook his head. "I tremble when I think of the calamities that may happen with Longbottom and Tonks in the Staff!"
Potter laughed. "Poor Snape!" Then a twinkle sparkled in Potter's eyes. "Oh, I understand. You couldn't find anyone to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts..."
"Precisely. I came to offer you the post."
Potter paled immediately and gripped the arms of his armchair. "I should have known." The younger wizard raised his eyes and glared at Severus. "You know very well that I don't want to go back to the Wizarding World, let alone to Hogwarts. I've asked you to leave me alone."
Severus felt a chill in his stomach. "I didn't have a choice, Potter. Just think of my situation. Do you think I would have come here if I had an alternative?"
Potter flashed a yellow smile. "Of course you wouldn't!" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Snape, but the answer is no."
A deep discouragement took hold of Severus. He should be angry at Potter, but he could only feel powerless and dispirited. He stood up and lifted his head, trying to retain his composure. "Very well, Potter. I will leave you to your memoirs."
But Potter remained in his armchair, looking suddenly lost and unsettled. "Er... You came a long way... Would you like... some tea?"
Severus was taken by surprise. It would be useless, wouldn't it? Why stay there any longer? Why endure that strange melancholy feeling that was overtaking him by remaining near the person who was causing it? Perhaps because a stubborn hope kept flaring in the depths of his soul. "That would be... fine. Thank you."
~* ~* ~
They had tea at the kitchen table. The Earl Grey was rich and fragrant, and the apple and nut cake was divine. But as neither of them were very good at small talk, the minutes of silence stretched embarrassingly.
After one of those long silences, Potter laughed and turned to face him. "You, the Headmaster... I pity those children! You're going to smother them."
Finally, a well-known feeling, anger, claimed its hold. Severus felt relieved: he knew how to deal with that feeling. "Look here, Potter..."
"Oh!" Potter rested his hand on Severus's arm and squeezed it. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to insult you. I was just thinking... The Slytherins will love it, of course, especially if you keep favouring them as you..."
"Potter, I never favoured anyone. I was only hopelessly attempting to minimise the privileges Dumbledore afforded to his beloved Gryffindors. Someone had to defend Slytherin," Severus hissed. "Now I am the Headmaster. Everyone will be treated equally, provided they obey the rules."
"I know. I trust you."
Severus felt his eyes widening, and tried to stop his chin from hitting the ground. "In this case, I can't understand the reasons of your concern."
"It's just that... I know that the Slytherins love you, and will be okay. The Hufflepuffs will like you too; they will love having someone to keep the school in order. The Ravenclaws live in an abstract world, far from reality; they won't even notice you, but they won't cause any trouble. But the Gryffindors..."
"The Gryffindors will always cause trouble, it doesn't matter who's the Headmaster."
"You're going to asphyxiate them. They will pine and die of boredom," Potter stated, a sardonic smile on his face.
Severus felt anger rise again. "And what do you suggest I do?"
Potter set down the cup, looking contemplative. Severus squeezed a napkin, more nervous than ever. Finally, Potter stared at him again, his eyes twinkling in a way that reminded Severus of his former Headmaster... "If I go with you... can I be the Head of Gryffindor?"
That little sparkle of hope seemed to ignite. "As long as you respect me as your superior..."
"Of course! But can I run my House my own way? Am I going to have autonomy?"
"Unless a disaster happens - which is not uncommon with you, Gryffindors - I promise never to enter your Tower." Severus stared back at Potter. He knew he was engaging in a very dangerous game, but cowardice was not one of Severus's flaws. "If I catch a Gryffindor roaming the halls after curfew with his Invisibility Cloak, or with suspect maps... he will serve detention with me. Personally!"
Potter laughed. "If you catch him!"
Severus glared daggers at the younger wizard. "If this is a challenge..."
"Very well, Severus Snape. It is a challenge. I accept your invitation."
Severus released the now wrinkled napkin and relaxed. That had been one of the most difficult and unexpected victories he had achieved in his entire life.
Potter smiled. "Have you finished your tea? I would like to say goodbye to this place... Would you care for a walk on the beach with me?"
"I have other obligations, Mr Potter."
"Just for half an hour. Then I'll pack my things and go with you to Hogwarts."
Severus sighed. "I'm already regretting having come here."
However, walking on the sand of the rocky coast of Glamorgan with the bane of his life, feeling the wind on his face and smelling the salty sea water, an irrational joy filled Severus. Right at that moment, he really believed that Albus Dumbledore would have been proud of him.
Ptyx, May 2005