August 15, 1998: Daily Prophet
"Now that the war is over we can finally focus on matters that have been neglected for too long," said Kingsley Shacklebolt. "Our top priority at this time is revamping the educational system, which, quite frankly, leaves much to be desired. It is entirely unacceptable for a teaching post or tenure to be awarded due to nepotism, or simply as a matter of political convenience. For that reason, we have instituted an apprenticeship program that will match qualified prospects, eager to pursue a career in education, to suitable mentors."
"We expect healthy competition for the existing vacancies, and for that reason, all applicants will be required to take the Apprenticeship Entrance Examination (AEE) in the subject area of their interest. It is our hope that this process will help standardize teaching methods and improve the quality of education for years to come."
We need to note that many former Hogwarts students, who were instrumental in defeating Voldemort, have chosen to remain in their Alma Mater and enrol in the Apprenticeship Program. Neville Longbottom has won the Herbology Apprenticeship with Professor Pomona Sprout, while Ron Weasley – the DADA Apprenticeship with Professor Severus Snape. Not to be outdone, Ron's fiancé, Hermione Granger, having obtained the top grade in the Transfiguration AEE, will begin her Apprenticeship with none other than Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.
And what of the famous Harry Potter, the conqueror of Voldemort? He surprised most people by acing the Potions AEE and winning the highly coveted Potions Apprenticeship with Horace Slughorn, who was reported to be both incredibly proud and extremely pleased by this unexpected surprise.
However, there appear to be some clouds in the sky for the young hero. We have it on good authority that the DADA instructor, Severus Snape, became furious over Harry Potter's appointment, challenging his grade in the Potions AEE and declaring to the Apprenticeship Admissions Committee that allowing Potter to work with potions is "a disaster waiting to happen". Harry Potter, though obviously upset, refused to comment on the incident.
It's quite clear to us that, in spite of Harry Potter's passionate defence of him at the Death Eater trials earlier this year, Severus Snape still holds on to old grudges and prejudices with enviable tenacity. It is obvious that underneath Snape's cold, petty, vindictive, and unfriendly exterior, lies an equally cold, petty, vindictive and unfriendly interior. Without a shadow of doubt, any reports of budding friendship between Harry Potter and Severus Snape have been greatly exaggerated.
We wish the best of luck to Harry Potter, to whom we all owe so much. And our sincere sympathy is with Ron Weasley, who has a year of hell under the cruel tutelage of Severus Snape to endure.
For Daily Prophet, this is Rita Skeeter reporting.
It's still ridiculously early, but the small coffee shop is crowded. The smell of coffee and freshly baked cinnamon buns hangs in the air, mingling with the sound of animated, cheerful conversations.
The young waitress, a round-faced and reddish-haired girl not a day over seventeen, surveys her customers, noticing a man in black who seems like he doesn't quite belong here. He sits apart from everyone else, hiding behind the morning paper – not that he needs it – his unfashionably long, untidy, oily hair with a few streaks of grey does an admirable job of concealing his face from view.
She begins her rounds, making her way towards him with the coffee pot in her hands.
His back stiffens when he senses her approach, and he makes sure not to lift his eyes from the paper. For a few moments she simply watches him, while he mutters under his breath – something about brainless imbeciles and idiotic reforms. Eventually, he crumples the newspaper and tosses in onto the floor. The impact sends a puff of dust into the air and a tiny beetle scuttles out of harm's way, up the wall to a safe spot near the window.
"Coffee?" The waitress asks.
The man more twitches than shrugs.
"Yes!" A cheerful voice declares behind the girl's back, startling her. "We'll take two. Just cream, no sugar. For both of us."
"Potter," Severus Snape hisses. "It's about time you got here."
The two mugs filled with coffee make their way to the table, and the waitress disappears promptly, leaving the two of them alone.
"Aw, come now, don't be like that," Harry says, opting for a teasing tone of voice. "I wouldn't stand you up. Not even after the scene last Friday – and yes, it already hit the papers. Then again, I suppose you've seen much worse where bad press is concerned. "
Severus winces slightly, and Harry knows he's hit a nerve. He doesn't like that. Two months ago, Harry might have been tempted to laugh at how a man, so sensitive to ridicule and scorn, time and again manages to get himself into the situations where his personal dignity is injured – but somehow... it doesn't seem all that funny anymore. Whatever Severus' faults may be, Harry doesn't like to see him upset, no more than he likes seeing a cat being petted the wrong way.
"You're probably right about the bad press," Severus says grimly. "It's still incredibly irritating. And I hope you appreciate me making this appointment, as I am here against my better judgement."
"You say that about everything," Harry replies with a smile, eager to lighten the mood. "To listen to you, the Universe itself is unfolding in a way that goes against your better judgement."
Severus bares his crooked teeth in a decidedly vicious sneer that for some reason warms Harry's heart. "I can't argue with that."
Harry chuckles slightly. "You know, it's not doing it on purpose. The Universe, I mean. It's not doing random, senseless, inconvenient things just to irritate and frustrate you."
Severus huffs. "And pray tell, what qualifies you to speak on behalf of the Universe?"
"Well," Harry muses with mock seriousness, "I am, after all, the Savior of the Wizarding World. And with the authority vested in me by that office, I assure you: the Universe likes you."
Severus issues a dry, hoarse bark of a laugh and Harry chuckles as well.
For a while they sit in a companionable silence, sipping their coffee, immersed in their own thoughts. Severus, as far as Harry can tell, looks half-amused and half-distraught – if Harry doesn't misread the man's body language. And reading Snape is no easy task – because Harry's mind keeps stubbornly straying to irrelevancies... for example, how soft those thin lips seem when they brush against the rim of the coffee mug... or how strikingly pale Severus' skin looks against the dark fabric of his robe, when the man reaches in a nervous gesture to undo a single button on his collar...
Bloody hell, not now, Harry scolds himself. They have enough problems as it is.
But then again, things are going remarkably well this morning, Harry has to admit to himself. On the other hand, he didn't bring up the argument... yet.
Taking a deep breath, Harry decides to push his luck just a bit.
"Now would you care to explain to me that horrible tantrum worthy of a third-year-student?" Harry asks neutrally. "You surprised a lot of people, I think."
"It wasn't a horrible tantrum," Severus says stiffly. "I was merely expressing my point of view."
"The point of view that Potter is an absolute idiot when it comes to Potions. The point of view that Potter shouldn't be allowed to take the apprenticeship, that Horace will be met with an untimely death when one of my potions is botched, and you will not be helping scrape our mangled remnants from the walls of the lab?" Harry supplies, trying not to sound too obviously hurt, even though Severus' outburst really did shake him up more than he's willing to admit.
"Not mangled. Liquefied," Severus counters humourlessly.
"Of course. Pardon me. Then, you added that Potter always gets everything he wants, simply for the asking. Then, you accused me of cheating. Finally, as if that wasn't enough, you added some more things about my mental capacity that I'm still repressing. To minimize the emotional trauma, you understand."
"Emotional trauma," Severus mutters. "The likes of you aren't traumatized by anything. I should know..."
"Well, I was traumatized. You crushed my gentle spirit," Harry says playfully.
Severus sneers at him again, and Harry realizes that the unfriendly sneer is worth a thousand apologies, and is a great deal more welcome.
"But seriously now," Harry continues, "why all the drama? I'm good at Potions."
Severus rolls his eyes.
"No, really," Harry insists. "Ask me anything."
"When would you mix two scoops of beetle eyes with the powdered Unicorn horn?"
"To create a base for the Draught of the Living Death," Harry responds instantly. "Come on, ask me something difficult."
"What would you get if you throw a dragon heartstring into your Veritaserum in its second stage of brewing?"
"A spectacular explosion that will melt half the lab," Harry says. "Though you can use Silver Moss extract to neutralize it. If you catch it within first ten seconds."
"And where would you find the aforementioned Silver Moss?"
"Scotland, in the caves of Bound Skerry, and nowhere else in the world."
Severus waves his hand dismissively. "Show off."
"I'm decent at Potions and you bloody know it," Harry says firmly, not willing to budge on the issue.
"Decent isn't good enough, Potter. Potions is an art that requires precision, accuracy, attention to detail, and imagination. Out of the aforementioned virtues, you only possess the latter, and not in the form required to excel in Potions."
"But still, to call me a brainless imbecile and an unmitigated idiot..."
"I thought you were repressing the details."
"I just had a breakthrough," Harry says dryly. "It's all coming back now. The point is – you made yourself look like a... vindictive monster. And for what? To drive me away from the Potions Apprenticeship? Do you really still despise me that much?"
Something like a faint shadow of regret crosses Severus' face.
"Bloody hell, Potter, there's no need for melodrama," Severus mutters. "And the answer is no."
"No what?" Harry presses.
"No, I don't despise you... much."
Harry smiles in spite of himself. "So what's the problem, then? The DADA post isn't all you thought it was going to be, and you already miss teaching Potions?"
Severus gives him an openly incredulous look. "No, I am quite pleased with the DADA post. And I most certainly will not miss teaching Potions."
"I see," Harry muses. "Well, then, your tantrum makes no sense at all. Or maybe it does, if you're jealous that I chose Slughorn to be my mentor, rather than you."
Severus' black eyes shift slightly, furtively. "Of course I wasn't jealous!" Severus denies indignantly. A little too indignantly, Harry thinks, then quickly realizes that it's just wishful thinking on his part.
"I think you were," Harry says playfully, deciding to indulge in the blissful fantasy a bit longer. "After this summer, you thought I'd ask to apprentice with you in DADA. You're totally jealous! You wanted to mentor me, to berate me daily, to teach me, to make me into a little, spiteful, petty, vindictive, cynical version of yourself. You wanted a disciple. Admit it."
"That's the most ridiculous thing you've said this morning," Severus says in a grave tone of voice that heralds nothing good. "Possibly in your entire life."
Harry isn't exactly surprised by the response, but gives Severus an affronted look anyway. "Fine. Whatever. I'm hungry. Let's order breakfast."
Severus nods, lifts his hand and summons the waitress with an imperious gesture that would make the Malfoys proud, and Harry can't credit how much he loves that gesture. The fact that the wizard employing it is a half-blood, working-class bloke from the slums of Manchester makes the gesture all the more endearing.
"Two croissants. Toasted. With honey," Severus says, ordering for both of them. Harry doesn't object.
They don't talk while they wait for the food. Severus is silent, appearing to be lost in his own thoughts. Harry watches him quietly, hoping that he's not too obvious about it.
He doesn't exactly know when watching Severus became an enjoyable pastime. Maybe around the same time when Harry suddenly decided that Severus' hair was "slightly oily" rather than "ridiculously greasy". Or maybe when Harry realized that the man's hooked nose didn't irritate him anymore, but looked rather... fetching. Or maybe – just maybe – it happened when Harry's world somehow became brighter, to the point that everything seems like a tiny wonder: from the large coffee mug, cradled in Severus' hands, to the small irregularities on the table surface where Severus' elbows rest, to the small specks of dust dancing in the sunlight, to the tiny beetle, crawling slowly along the window sill.
Harry twitches slightly, hoping that the doubtlessly goofy smile on his face doesn't give him away.
Fortunately, they don't have to wait long - the food arrives quickly, and the waitress departs equally as quick, leaving the two of them alone once more.
Severus bites into his croissant. A small trickle of honey smudges against his fingers, and for a brief moment Harry has to fight the irresistible urge to take Severus' hand in his and lick that golden droplet of honey off...
Harry looks away quickly, then looks at Severus again to find him licking the back of his hand in a decidedly unrefined way... and that single gesture is the quintessence of Severus Snape, Harry thinks. The man is a walking, living sum of polar opposites: childish pettiness and generosity of spirit; unwavering self-control in things that matter, and the tendency to throw it away for the silliest of reasons; the painstakingly created aristocratic persona, and then – a simple, undignified gesture like this that sends it down the drain... the man contradicts himself simply by breathing.
And bloody hell, Harry thinks, how does Severus manage to lick in such an obviously erotic way?
"Come to think of it, Potter, it's your behaviour as of late, that warrants further inquiry," Severus says suddenly, startling him.
"My... behaviour?" Harry croaks, quickly looking away once more.
"Yes. Spending a significant part of your summer holidays visiting Spinner's End, asking me random questions about Potions..."
"I was studying for the exam!" Harry protests.
"Of course you were. By the way, where did you learn all those amusing factoids that you didn't ask me about?"
Harry bites his lip. "Promise not to yell?"
"I promise no such thing."
"I'm not going to tell you then."
"You don't need to. The Half Blood Prince's Book. You still have it."
There's no way to deny it now, and Harry knows it.
"Yes," Harry says.
"You said you'd lost it."
"I lied," Harry says without a shade of apology.
"Do try not to faint."
Severus smirks. "So you kept the book and read it, sentimentally poring over the pages like a besotted teenager..."
"It's a useful reference manual, nothing more," Harry says stiffly. His cheeks feel uncomfortably warm.
"Nothing more, certainly," Severus says, appearing to be genuinely entertained. "Then, day after day, you spend hours on end with me, getting underfoot like a spoilt cat, asking random questions about Potions. One might think that you were simply looking for an excuse to spend time at Spinner's End. All while the entire Wizarding World expects you to study for the DADA Apprenticeship Entrance Exam... but of course, you don't need to study for that. Your natural ability and predisposition for that subject are legendary, and quite uncanny..."
"My – what?" Harry's thoughts are confused because he is trying to figure out whether Snape is mocking him or complimenting him – or maybe a bit of both. "You really think so?"
"Do not interrupt. I have no doubt that you fully intended to apply for the DADA Apprenticeship, but when the time came, and it finally dawned on you who would be mentoring you, you got cold feet. You got scared. So you applied for the Potions Apprenticeship instead."
"That's ridiculous," Harry denies instantly. "Why would I be scared?"
He's certain that his face is radiating heat like a supernova. He knows that the wild thumping of his heart is betraying him. Snape knows. Of course Snape fucking knows. He knows everything.
"You really want to know what I think?" Snape asks, as a spark of malicious amusement appears in his eyes.
"Yes, I really want to know what you think," Harry says in a purposefully flat, disinterested tone of voice. His hands, cold and sweaty, are clenched into fists. This is it. The end of the road. Snape noticed. Snape will mock him like there's no tomorrow. Fuck. Just... fuck.
Severus gets up, pushing the chair aside. He circles around the table and towers over Harry, staring down at him, standing so maddeningly, unbelievably close that... Harry's world suddenly becomes much smaller. It's only big enough to contain the two of them.
The cool, slender hand touches Harry's flushed face, brushes against his cheek, cups his chin and tilts his head backwards. For a quick moment the overhead lights blind him and Harry shuts his eyes – and then, Severus' lips descend on his, covering his mouth, plundering it, devouring it. Fully convinced that he's finally gone insane, Harry opens his lips in automatic response and starts kissing back, realizing that Severus tastes like coffee, bread and honey. Tastes like home. Kissing Severus tastes like coming home.
Without any warning, Harry finds his mouth abandoned, and Severus takes a step back.
Harry sits up straight and stares at Severus.
Severus stares back, studying him, gauging his reaction in a way so clinical that Harry wants to throttle him.
"I do not want a disciple, Potter," Severus says in a soft, dangerous voice that sends a shiver down Harry's spine. "I may have, at one point, but no longer. I must confess – against my better judgement, you understand – to wanting something else. "
Harry stands up abruptly, shoving the coffee mug and half-finished breakfast aside. The plate and the mug fall to the ground. Something spills, something cracks, something shatters. Harry doesn't care.
He grabs Severus by the robe, gathering handfuls of coarse fabric in his fists, and pulls him towards himself.
They are nose to nose now. Harry doesn't let go of Severus.
"The hell with your better judgement," Harry says. "Your place or mine?"
Severus' breath hitches just a bit. "I don't care," Severus says, and really seems like he doesn't. He reaches into the pocket of his robe, pulls out a handful of galleons and throws the money on the table without looking.
The two of them exit the coffee shop hastily, either ignoring or simply not noticing the stunned crowd they leave behind – the young waitress can't tell.
The girl shakes her head with a rueful, indulgent smile, and begins to pick up the pieces of broken dishes off the floor. Something catches her eye; she stops and lifts her head, noticing a tiny beetle on the window sill.
"Today must be your lucky day," the girl says, and the little insect seems to flutter its wings in cheerful agreement. "You wanted a story about those two – so go ahead and write it. And I'd say that for the first time in your notorious career you don't have to lie: this time, truth is stranger than fiction."