It wasn't Christmas, of course; it was Yule. There were no religious observances at Hogwarts, but there were trees, greenery, tinsel, and overwhelming festivity -- the works. The only truly unusual thing I noted -- besides snow falling in the Great Hall -- was the armor in the corridors, enchanted to sing carols (some of them old and unfamiliar, and some of them of the 'carpe diem,' rather naughty variety). We were staying for the Yule Ball at Ian's request, as it was an infrequent occurrence; then we would go to Lucy's for New Years'.
Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were staying over, it appeared, as well as half the Hogwarts student population, so the halls were teeming with youngsters at loose ends. Many of the friends Ian had made in Hufflepuff were boarding over, and I got the chance to know them outside the classroom: our rooms became a favourite hang-out when they discovered both our video recorder and that I was, uncharacteristically, in sweets-baking mode.
The baking was partly necessity and partly relief, I think. I'd made it through term without any more major incidents, and I was gaining the reputation of being a tough but fair teacher. My marks were in; aside from some reservations about several of the students, all seemed to be going well.
I'd even acquitted myself well during the next-to-last staff meeting of the term. One or more of the Slytherins -- Malfoy among them, presumably -- had whinged to Snape about my marking of their papers, and, of course, he had to bring it up in front of the other faculty, rather than confronting me directly and in private.
"And what is their specific complaint, Professor Snape?" I asked calmly.
"That you force them to re-write assignments if you do not agree with their statements --" he coldly noted, and I cut him off.
"It's certainly true that I require then to re-submit work if they make unsubstantiated statements," I explained. "But that has nothing to do with whether I agree with those statements or not."
"You are encroaching on their personal beliefs," he said oppressively. "I was under the impression your job was to teach Muggle Studies, not your own biased views."
Oh, that was rich. I mentally cursed whichever of the little gits had run to Snape.
"Have you seen examples of their work? Did they bother to show you?" I asked him with a stiff smile.
"No; why should they?" he retorted.
No reason they should, but in the interest of fairness you could have bothered to use your own judgement...
"Then let me give you one example," I said determinedly, ignoring the groans of several faculty (staff meetings are universally abhorred; it was no different at Hogwarts than anywhere else). I rooted among the stack of essay books I was shortly due to return to the Firsts.
"This is not, by the way, from a Slytherin," I noted before I began. "'Purebloods are snobby and pretenshus' -- badly misspelled, Headmaster, I do wish you'd add the OED to the required texts -- 'and they treat Muggles and Muggle-borns like dirt.' It continues in that vein for some time," I noted. "And here are my marginalia. '1. This is an unacceptable generalisation. 2. You must support any personal statement of this kind with an explanation of how you came to this conclusion, including experiences that led you to form it. Include in your reply a paper of at least six inches explaining how you may have misinterpreted "snobby" and "pretentious," and another six inches setting out possible justifications for the "pureblood" point of view.'"
Jaysus. No wonder it takes me so long to mark the damned things.
"I might as well make multiple copies of that and fill in the blanks," I added frankly and irrelevantly, "I end up writing it at least ten times a week, and no House is exempt."
Flitwick gave a small sound of protest, and I threw an apologetic look his way. "It's true there have been fewer from Ravenclaw, Filius," I admitted, "but they're not immune, I'm afraid."
"Might I see that, Miranda?" Headmaster asked, and I passed the essay to him: he immersed himself in it, ignoring the continuing argument between Snape and me.
"So you see, I require the same standard from all students, not only Slytherins," I added directly to Snape (admittedly somewhat smugly).
"That rather begs the question of why you require it at all," he replied maliciously. "Surely it's not a part of the curriculum."
"No, but it is a part of the teaching," I retorted. "It's a little concept called Critical Thinking -- I'm sure you're acquainted with it -- "
He gave an impatient sneer.
"-- something sadly lacking, as much in the Muggle world as here," I pushed ahead. "I don't care if the students share my views or not, but I do want them to examine their beliefs -- question them, if necessary -- and try to understand the other person's point of view."
"Really, Severus, I hardly see it as an issue if she makes them all do it," McGonagall interjected with a sniff, and I was immensely gratified for the support.
"In any case," Headmaster chimed in, chuckling at something he'd read in the essay, "it fulfills the spirit behind the curriculum, so I'm afraid you shall have to chalk it up to a difference in teaching style, Severus, and leave it that."
Snape glowered at me, but, given Headmaster's comment, he had little choice but to drop it.
"Merlin's beard, Miranda," Headmaster added, "but you do go through a lot of red ink. Perhaps we should require the OED..."
Hah. Miranda Hunter, 1: Snape, Nil. I was tremendously cheerful for the rest of the day: not even Malfoy and his mates could turn my elation sour.
It wasn't that I begrudged Snape his concern over his charges' well-being: it was his job as Head of House to look out for their interests and to monitor their academic progress. I assumed I was causing them no small amount of additional work, and they couldn't be happy about that. And I challenged them to think for themselves about things they'd probably been spoon-fed since birth.
Which is, no doubt, why Snape felt it appropriate to challenge me, junior faculty and an untried teacher with less than a tenth of his own experience, and with a vastly different philosophy toward education (so I assumed, from Ian's descriptions of Potions Class). I'd determined that he certainly knew his subject, and had standards as high as my own, if not higher; his intelligence was unquestionable, and, to my vast relief, he'd so far fulfilled his promise to confine his criticisms of Ian to his assignments.
I just wished he didn't have to be so damned unpleasant toward me. We were, after all, on the same side. At least I assumed we were: I couldn't imagine Dumbledore keeping him on otherwise. (Of course, this was before I'd heard about several of Moody's predecessors and Headmaster's tendency to hire idiots and underdogs. And when I did, I strongly resisted the urge to put myself in either of those categories.)
At any rate, by the end of term Ian was doing well. So well, in fact, that McGonagall was considering lifting the Limiting Charm next term. The change in him was extraordinary. He was far more confident, though still reluctant to approach strangers straight off.
He was also growing away from me, the way most boys do their mothers. I suppose he'd gotten some teasing, for public hugs and kisses abruptly stopped -- the day in the staff room had been the last, in fact: the next time I'd unthinkingly reached for him he'd squirmed away. I missed the little boy who'd clung to me for the past two years, even as I took pride that he was fitting in to his new life.
I certainly wasn't. As kind as most of the Hogwarts adults were, I still had the sense that I was, and always would be, an outsider.
I didn't even mind those which still reflected obvious hostility to all things Muggle: at least those students were being honest. It was the apathetic ones that had me worried. They seemed to have no realisation that the concepts and issues we studied had application to their lives, whether they were pureblood or Muggleborn.
It's what every teacher goes through, I suppose, no matter what the subject.
I set the best and worst aside: Flitwick had offered to copy them for me (magically, of course) so Headmaster and I could evaluate progress at years' end.
I resigned myself to some eventual disappointments.
I truly put my foot in it at the Ball, and it was all the wassail's fault.
I'd joined a gaggle of female teachers up at the High Table: they were busy gossiping -- a time-honoured Hogwarts tradition, but aided much by the application of the afore-mentioned wassail. In our defence, we were all slightly tipsy.
Bored with the current topic -- Granger's choice of Durmstrang student Viktor Krum for an escort, I believe it was -- I glanced out the window into the Quad to see Snape deep in conversation with the Durmstrang Head. Occasionally he would point his wand at the rose bushes and blast the leaves and petals from them.
"Good God, what's Snape up to?" I happened to know Sprout had spent a lot of time on the roses, and I was appalled at the wanton destruction.
Poppy Pomfrey peered 'round my shoulder. "Ah, yes, that would be Ebenezer Snape and his own particular version of 'Bah, Humbug.' He's on the lookout for snoggers."
Hooch snorted. "No sense of occasion, that one. Merlin's Balls, it's not term-time. Even I'm inclined to overlook a little snoggery in the Quad, tonight. I remember what it was like to be young."
"Was Snape ever young?" I asked dryly, and Pomfrey choked on her wassail. "I though he'd hatched fully-grown from an egg."
"Oh, of course he was young, Miranda," McGonagall said, trying to be severe, but spoiling the effect with a lopsided grin. (She wasn't above slyly twitting him herself on the odd occasion, I'd noted.) "He wasn't the most handsome lad, but he was bright and witty. Quite popular with some of the girls, up to Seventh Year, at any rate. I caught him canoodling on at least three occasions, each time with a different girl."
"Thank you, Minerva." Hooch glared at her. "That's an image I could have done without. I'll need a Dreamless Sleep Draught tonight."
"Actually," I mused, "I can see that..."
When I came to my senses, all three were staring at me: Hooch in horror, Pomfrey in amazement, and McGonagall with a certain knowing amusement.
"I mean," I added defensively, "if you can get through the snark, there's all that intelligence, and that's very... attractive...."
My voice trailed off as Pomfrey dissolved into giggles -- very inappropriate for a woman her apparent age, if you ask me -- and Hooch rolled her eyes.
"Oh, never mind -- forget I said anything," I sulked, and pushed the damned wassail goblet away.
"Not bloody likely," Hooch chortled. "You stuffed your foot in your gob -- you live with it."
"I quite agree with you, Miranda. Don't mind them." McGonagall reached over to pat my hand. "Severus was always one of my favourite students, for precisely that reason."
"But if Snape gets a Valentine come February," Hooch said darkly, "we shall know who's responsible."
I took myself away from the Ball as soon as was decently possible.
Little packages had been accumulating outside our door all week, and Ian and I had responded by distributing tons of pastries to the faculty and staff, as well as to the Hufflepuff Common Room (hence the scads of baking I'd done before the Yule Ball). Dumbledore had gotten a particularly large tin of gooey sweets. But this was a very special, personal delivery.
I took another look at the thing before I wrapped it up. It lay sleek and pristine in its box, the jet-black of its cap and barrel unrelieved save for the clip and two severe bands of gold. It had a refillable cartridge and instructions for use.
Don't think of it as a Christmas present -- it's a peace offering. He'll probably hate the gesture, in any case. It'll just gather dust.
On the other hand, Snape had seemed intrigued enough with my own pen that he might just keep and use it. Though I'd never know.
I stopped the useless speculations, born of cowardice. I wrapped the box; decided against a card -- it was a fairly obvious gesture, after all -- and crept down to the dungeons.
No light shone from under his door, and no packages cluttered the floor about it. I slipped the box down next to the jamb and scarpered.
And no one, corporeal or ghostly, accosted me on my way home.
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As far as I know, there is no actual Quad mentioned in canon, and the blasted roses take place elsewhere, I believe. Tough. I need a Quad, I want a Quad, and I shall have one. Told you this might be an Alternate Universe.
Dickens' A Christmas Carol is so universally known that it doesn't bother me that Poppy Pomfrey seems to be well-acquainted with it.