Severus Snape grinned at his second year Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff students. The class shuffled nervously and avoided meeting his eyes. Fear, anger, disgust -- these were things he had experience in disguising. This pleasant breathlessness of repressed laughter was a new feeling. Stop it, Severus, he told himself firmly. You're frightening the children.
The irony of that thought caught up with him a second later and a sound that could only be described as a chuckle escaped from his mouth. As one, the class jumped in shock.
The French post owl had arrived at breakfast in the Great Hall, but he had waited until he was back in the privacy of his own chambers before opening the letter with trembling fingers.
We have great pleasure in offering you the job of leading the European Potions Review. The job begins on January 4, we hope this gives you enough time to arrange relocating to Strasbourg.
We look forward to seeing you then.
Herr Manfred Edelmann.
International Confederation of Wizardy
He was out! No more teaching!
He had giggled like a maniac and let out a whoop or two of joy. There had perhaps even been a little dancing – which hadn't even hurt – although obviously no one needed to know about that. He had at least managed to prevent himself from skipping down the corridors, which obviously would have ruined the reputation he would leave behind him forever.
The students in front of him had unpacked their cauldrons and were waiting to be told what they would be making. He studied their scrubbed little faces – some bored before the lesson had even begun, some eager to learn, some clearly dreaming of being elsewhere – and searched his mind for any twinge of regret at the idea of leaving. No, none.
"This is the last lesson you will be taught by me," he announced, which got everyone's attention. A few jaws dropped, eyebrows raised, but no one looked especially disappointed. Wait – that wasn't entirely fair. The two chess players looked surprisingly glum. Ah, well, they'd soon cheer up when they hear McGonagall had promised to keep the games club running.
"I do not intend to teach you any new potions today, but instead plan to go over some of the basic skills of ingredient preparation and so on, in order that whoever is teaching you next term might have some hope of not being blown up, shrunk or sent into a coma."
The students began to look bored again, clearly expecting a tedious revision lesson. Heh, sod the reputation he would leave behind him. He kept his glower stern for a moment longer for dramatic effect.
"We will therefore be making mince pies today."
The staff dutifully toasted his departure and he was surprised that the brief ceremony seemed warm and genuine. McGonagall, naturally, was kind in her good wishes and he didn't doubt it when she said he would be hard to replace. But he hadn't expected the small tokens of farewell his colleagues presented. Flitwick and Sprout presented him with what they described as an "experimental cheering cactus".
"It's been charmed at a cellular level, so that in sunlight it produces a mildly cheering effect, similar to looking at a cheerful picture or a Christmas tree," explained Flitwick.
"It's one of the first successful crop," added Sprout, handing over the small, prickly green plant around which they had tied a silver ribbon.
The rest of the staff had clubbed together to buy a bottle of really rather expensive brandy and a set of glasses. Splendid, he thought as Hagrid sent him flying across the staff room with an affectionate pat on the back, since Lupin has just about polished off the one good bottle I had.
Lupin had, of course, popped over to celebrate as soon as he heard the news and they had headed for the Three Broomsticks. Whether it existed or not, the unspoken agreement still held and even when somewhat tipsy they hadn't touched on uncomfortable subjects – such as most of the past. Anyway, there was a great deal to discuss about the future.
Lupin announced that he was considering taking up the invitation to teach transfiguration – having agreed with the headmistress that he could take a few days leave each full moon. It might not make him the ideal employee, but it wasn't as if there was a queue of people waiting to take the post, and he did rather think he was cut out for teaching.
Snape's litany of Dreadful Things About Teaching (the stupid children, the irritating children, the noisy children, the rest of the children) only made Lupin splutter with laughter. When he stopped chuckling he turned serious for a moment.
"How did you do it for so long?" he asked. "If you hated it so much."
Snape shrugged, his gaze flicking briefly to the spot on his arm where the Dark Mark had once been emblazoned. "It was necessary," he said. Lupin looked as though he was about to apologise for bringing up the subject.
"It doesn't matter now," said Snape. "It's over."
If the staff's gifts were unexpected, he really wasn't prepared to be ambushed by more than a dozen first and second year students from all the houses.
Every one of the games club was waiting in the entrance to the dungeons after the staff ceremony – and for a moment he wondered if he had the days mixed up and the students expected a final games session for the end of term. If so, they would find the games he had bought and stashed in the games cupboard before he had left, which would be a dratted nuisance.
"Sir," said Rupert, the young Ravenclaw whose sorting had started this whole bizarre episode in teacher-student relations. "We just wanted to say good luck in your new job."
"And we'd like to give you this," added Victoria, the pigtailed Gryffindor, as the Slytherin Roger held out a parcel.
As he tore off the paper he realised for the first time that these were the only students he had ever thought of by their given names. Perhaps it was because having two Miss Grotes made it too confusing, or perhaps it marked the end of a lifetime's habit, passed down from his own teachers and reinforced by his hatred of his own first name and the taunts it had led to.
The thought was broken off as his gift eventually emerged from the students' slightly over-enthusiastic wrapping. A wizard chess set – well-made but not overly fancy like some, although it had probably cost them their combined pocket money for at least a week.
He lifted out a black pawn and studied the piece as it awakened and fidgeted. "Thank you," he said, his voice choked with emotion. "Thank you, all of you."
The students blushed a little and smiled in embarrassment at the sight of their usually stern teacher apparently on the brink of tears.
"I'll think of you all whenever I play with it," he added. "And I hope you'll keep this club going next term. The headmistresses says she'll make sure there's somewhere for you all to meet." He looked around, seeing something he had received from Slytherins in the past, but never from the others – gratitude and admiration shining in his students' eyes.
The transfer from platform nine and three-quarters at Kings Cross to the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo was a complex one and travelling on the Muggle's underground railway was crowded and unpleasant. So it wasn't until he was settled in a first class seat with a glass of champagne and a copy of a French potions journal that he really had a chance to realise that he had left Hogwarts for good.
Well, not exactly for good. The next time he'd be back would be to inspect the work of his replacement. And that would certainly be interesting.
Well, for now anyway. There's a couple of other things I want to write next, but would anyone be interested in seeing how things go in Strasbourg, what Hermione does on returning from Africa, who replaces Snape and how Lupin gets on as a transfig. teacher?