Much Learning Doth Make Thee Mad

Acts 26:24

December 22nd, 1998

Harry's footsteps echoed in the chill December air that somehow seeped into Hogwarts without warming. Usually there was the breath of life that a school full of students brought – the bustling, yelling, laughing warmth of people. But all the kids had gone home for Christmas, leaving the faithful and few who had no where else to go. Harry himself would normally be with the Weasleys, enjoying a large family Christmas, but his chosen coursework assignment meant a little extra effort. He would still be able to join them from Christmas Eve.

It was nice, in a funny way, to be in Hogwarts without all the children. When he was one he'd never noticed how loud and clumsy they were. Being a mature student had its advantages – a private room being about top of the list – but being part of a class of seventeen year olds could be strange to say the least. He was pleased that most of the teachers made time to see him privately, or allowed him to work in their rooms during free periods on his various projects.

Lit torches in brackets along the walls did little to warm the more stagnant air of the basement. But something was different to the rest of the castle, to the way the space normally was. There was something in the air.

As he came closer to the dungeon level, Harry could make out a tune that grew stronger as he came closer to the Potions classroom: the heavy crescendos and warbling voices of Muggle classical music.

Harry put his head around the potions room door, where the volume of the soprano's notes was almost painful. There were no speakers, no sound system, no obvious source to the music. But the room held one occupant, his head bowed so that a curtain of black hair concealed his face. He lent over a work book, scribbling in the margin or striking words out every so often. His head nodded to the music, engrossed.

"Professor?" Harry asked, knocking softly on the door jamb.

Snape took his time, writing a final, long comment at the bottom of the essay before circling the awarded grade. He looked up, black eyes noting Harry without surprise, and lethargically tapped his wand on a small silver box that sat on the desk before him. The volume decreased steadily until it was more ambient than all-consuming.

"It's on the bench at the back. I can't promise yesterday's third years didn't sully it in their exuberance for the festive season."

Harry walked to the back bench, nodding at his teacher's words. A soft, lilac mist shimmered over the green potion's surface. That wasn't good. He took a battered copy of Moste Potente Potions from the school supply stacked at one end of the bench and flicked through to the anti-swelling balm he had been attempting to brew up.

"Bugger!"

"Profanity in the classroom, Potter?"

Harry blushed. He thought he had said it softly, but apparently not. He turned to look over his shoulder. Snape was still engrossed in his pile of marking. "Wrong colour mist and it smells too acidic."

The sallow face lifted once more. "Mauve mist?" Snape asked.

"Lilac."

"Don't be pedantic, Potter," he snapped. "They were working with cider vinegar yesterday," he bent his head once more.

Harry frowned and consulted the book once more. "Cider vinegar's good with sore throats, disinfection lesions, drawing out infection," he muttered to himself, staring at the potions book as a means of focus. "Bit strong, I suppose, but I could use some soda ash. That'd neutralize the acid, not a catalyst to anything." He turned to ask over his shoulder, "Soda ash?"

"End cupboard," came the response. "Thank you for figuring it out yourself."

"Had to," Harry said, bending to pick out the correct jar. "You're not allowed to help me."

"This has to be done by New Year's Day and I'm leaving tomorrow. You would have had to start from scratch when you didn't do anything wrong. I may be a monster but I have some ethics."

His scar creased when he frowned, studiously pouring the jar's contents into the potion, while stirring with the other hand. "You're not a monster," he said with some disapproval. That was what the tabloids had called him, the words of Rita Skeeter and sundry other Prophet writers. That Snape would pick up the term concerned him. "Is this Mozart?" Harry asked to change the subject.

"From The Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night Aria."

Harry nodded slowly. "It's pretty."

"It's a Goddess trying to persuade her daughter to kill her father."

Harry paused his stirring momentarily. "Oh. So not pretty, then." He bent to blow out the flame beneath his cauldron.

Snape sighed and closed the last of the workbooks, dropping it onto the pile and flicking his wand to send them to their designated shelf. "Not to your way of thinking, no." He tapped the silver box once more, and the track changed to another piece of classical music.

Harry smiled. "Ode to Joy, Beethoven's ninth symphony." He put down his ladle, turning to lean against the bench. His professor leant back in his chair, hands folded on his stomach. He regarded Harry with cool eyes and a quirked eyebrow. "They play it sometimes on the last night of the proms," Harry explained. "Uncle Vernon used to think it made him look intelligent to drink Brandy and watch the proms on TV."

"When everyone knows the intelligent drink Guinness."

The younger man laughed out loud, the elder merely smirking and training his eyes on the desk before him. "And why not? Full of iron, very good for you. Especially nursing mothers, strangely enough."

"Someone's been raiding the library for the medical examination," he stated simply.

"What can I say? I've been overtaken by the joys of learning." Harry smiled and met his Professor's black eyes, which were staring at him intently. The corners of his lips had curled ever so slightly, a small smile slowly creeping onto his face. Harry's face was growing flushed. He had never just talked to Snape for this long before. I was really kind of nice. "Is it weird?"

"What?" Snape asked.

"Having an adult in your class -- teaching someone who should know all this."

"The education system used to be different, when I started teaching. There was an element of higher education, rather than just apprenticeships to various professions. We would teach during the day, as we do now, but in the evenings there would be further education tutorials or one-on-one meetings with adult students to discuss their progress. It was a better way of teaching: the graduates wanted to learn and did most of their study at home or in the library."

Harry nodded. He could see the similarities. Although he attended some classes – pre-arranged with his teachers – he spent most of his time in the library, or working on practical assignments in his own time. "Did you do that?" he asked, out of curiosity.

Snape nodded slowly.

"I can see that. I mean, you seem the academic type. And when you were a kid…" Harry trailed off. He did not like to mention the Snape he had seen in the pensieve, not only because it tended to cause pyrotechnics from his teacher, but also because it forced on him an image of his father with which he had never been comfortable.

Although his eyes dropped away from Harry, and he was sure his jaw tightened for a moment, there was none of the usual anger the met the recollection of Harry's stolen glance at Snape's past. "I once told Slughorn I would be content to never leave this school. I think I cursed myself that day."

Harry shifted from foot to foot. The conversation was becoming worryingly introspective, and with the fire gone behind him the cold was beginning to seep into his robes.

As though having the same thought, Snape rose from his chair and collected up a notebook and the now-silent silver box from his desk. "If you're finished…?"

"Will it be OK there?" Harry asked, pushing away from the counter and walking to join Snape by the door.

"Best that it cools in here. I will move it to my rooms before I leave tomorrow. It should be set by then."

Harry smiled at him. When they stood close Snape could still tower over him, but with a very little distance Harry could look into his eyes without having to lift his head. "Thanks and … well … Merry Christmas."

"Yes," Snape replied in a non-committal way, opening the door for Harry.

Harry walked away slowly, listening to the sounds of Snape warding his classroom door, and then turning and walking back down the corridor. He looked over his shoulder once. Snape was flicking through his notebook as he walked, head bent, but still taking long strides with feet that had walked these corridors for many years and knew their own way well. He imagined the long pale fingers flipping pages, a frown of concentration and impatience, sharp black eyes scanning the words rapidly, searching unfalteringly. He wondered what Snape was reading, what page he was looking for.

Then Snape turned a corner and was gone. Harry paused to listen, but he could not hear Snape's footsteps, either.