Dumbledore's eyes caught Snape's in veiled reproach at his tardiness before clearing his throat. "Now that we're all in attendance, I have an announcement to make. As you are all aware of, Professor Vector has taken an extended leave for her upcoming maternity and will not be with us this coming year. My advance congratulations to her and Professor Sinistra." Dumbledore nodded towards the Astronomy professor. "Thus, I have the greatest of pleasure in introducing our new Arithmancy teacher, Professor Charles Eppes. I assure you all that while Professor Eppes is not an alumni of our school, he has the finest of credentials in his field. I hope you all will make him feel most welcome in his new home."
A round of applause broke out as the young man in the corner stepped forward and nodded shyly. Severus clapped politely along with his fellows. He found his gaze trapped on the new professor as he stepped back into the shadows the moment Dumbledore continued with the meeting. Professor Eppes was obviously uncomfortable with the sudden attention. Snape could sympathize. From appearance alone he could tell the new professor was going to be a hit among the students. The girls would find his looks, combined with the sad shyness, a compelling attraction. He had no doubt that a number of the third years would be requesting a sudden addition of Arithmancy.
The new professor was surrounded by the more inquisitive staff members the moment the meeting ended, Professor Sinistra foremost among them. Snape slipped away amidst the clamor, shooting a pitying glance at the overwhelmed professor on his way out.
If he'd looked back a second later he would have noticed that the new professor's eyes followed him as he left.
The second time Snape saw the new professor was a week later at the start-of-term feast. Professor Sinistra had stuck herself fast at the new professor's side, passing to him advice from Professor Vector. True to Snape's predictions, Professor Eppes had caught the eye of a fair number of females as the students filed in, and a fair amount of whispering had risen, no doubt wondering who the visitor was.
Attention turned away from the professor as soon as Dumbledore moved on to the more interesting news of the term, namely the installation of Alastor Moody as the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, the announcement of the Tri-Wizard tournament, and the arrival of the guest students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Snape excused himself early from the banquet, as was his custom. The silent, vacant halls were a blessed relief, and he felt his spirits lifting the further away from the great hall he got. He sighed, a strange disappointment settling over him as he left, but he ignored it, chalking it up to the normal dreary mood that came on him at the start of term.
"Excuse me, Professor Snape?" A youthful, high voice called after him.
Severus turned, expecting to be faced with a student, only to find the new professor jogging down the halls after him. He forced a smile on his face, though it did little to hide his disinterested mood. "Is there something I can assist you with?" He drawled.
Professor Eppes shook his head quickly as he skidded to a stop next to Snape, his bright face flushed pink from exertion and embarrassment. "Yes," he answered quickly, then suddenly thinking about his answer and amending it with a blush. "No. ...well, not exactly. Sort of."
Snape arched an eyebrow at the awkward babble. Professor Eppes was fortunate that he taught electives. The Slytherins would have eaten him alive.
"I wanted to say hello," Professor Eppes finally got around to the point. "We haven't really had a chance to meet."
"A pity. Well, now we have met, Professor Eppes," Snape turned away, considering his expected greeting complete.
"Please, call me Charlie." Professor Eppes followed behind him awkwardly, presumably in an attempt to foster conversation, though Snape was unsure why. Surely Sinistra would have mentioned that Snape was not the most social among the staff.
"You teach Potions, right?"
Snape nodded. He would have assumed that would have been mentioned in any initial introductions to the school. "I do."
"That's like Chemistry, right?"
The analogy brought Severus to a halt in the middle of the hall and he turned his head to glare down at the professor, his gaze softened somewhat by the look of open curiosity on Charlie's face.
"Something like it," he drawled, "though the complexities differ between subjects."
Snape was beginning to wonder what the 'finest of credentials' in Professor Eppes' background actually were. Now that Severus thought about it, there were no large wizarding universities in the United States. In fact, he wasn't even sure if he recalled ever hearing of any wizarding school in the Americas. Given that, he wouldn't be surprised if the professor's background was almost entirely muggle, a thrilling concept to say the least.
"Ah." Professor Eppes seemed to have taken Snape's silence as a dismissal, not an entirely unwelcome assumption on Snape's part. "Which way to the North Tower?"
With a sigh, Snape turned and headed in the almost opposite direction of his quarters. "This way." Professor Eppes was going to need more than just Professor Sinistra's advice if he was going to survive.
Charlie remained silent the entire way until they reached the portrait in front of his quarters, a strange abstract painting made of different colored blocks.
"I trust you remembered your password?" Snape couldn't keep a light sneer from slipping into his voice.
"I... yes." Charlie blushed as he fumbled around in his pockets. The sneer turned into a frown as he watched the muggle-turned-professor search for his wand. "Professor Snape, I appear to have..."
Snape had his wand out before Professor Eppes could finish the sentence. A raised eyebrow was all that he needed to prompt Eppes for his password. Snape repeated the word with the appropriate flick of his wand.
The portrait swung away to reveal pale cream walls covered by muggle chalkboards with complex mathematics scribbled across every one. Snape raised an eyebrow, and amused smile stealing onto his face as Charlie stepped into his quarters.
"A bit of a math enthusiast, are we?"
Charlie glanced sheepishly between the chalkboards and Professor Snape before nodding shyly. "Yeah. You could say that."
Snape turned away with a nod. "Good night, Professor."
"Good night," Charlie called after him, "and thanks."
Snape shook his head once he heard the portrait click shut. Dumbledore had definitely picked another odd professor to join their ranks.
Four days later Snape found the new professor knocking on the portrait to his quarters, his approach unnoticed by the distracted professor.
"Can I help you?" Snape drawled the question out in even tones, grinning internally as Professor Eppes jumped in surprise.
"Sorry," Charlie apologized automatically. "I... umm..." The awkwardness returned, though Snape had noticed that the Professor didn't have this much trouble stringing together words around the rest of the staff, aside from Moody and Finch. "Dumbledore sent me down," he explained hastily.
A raised eyebrow and faint smirk was Snape's only response.
"He said you might be able to help me with the grading scale," Charlie continued with a nervous smile. "I haven't had much experience assigning this kind of homework."
Snape nodded quickly, his amusement dissipating slightly as he realized what Dumbledore was trying to do. He unlocked the portrait with a sharp flick of his wand, muttering the password too low to be overheard. Professor Eppes stood frozen in the hall as Snape brushed past him. Pausing in the doorway, he tried to paste a more reassuring look on his face as he turned back to the nervous professor. "Well, come in."
Charlie stepped inside hesitantly, peering around as if a strange monster was going to jump out at him. He did jump when the portrait swung shut behind him. "Thanks. I'm sorry to bother you, but I..."
"It's alright," Snape cut him off. He draped his cloak over a high-backed armchair as he headed for the small kitchen alcove on the other side of the room. "Better make yourself comfortable." Loathe as he was to invite company, he knew better than to brush Professor Eppes off if Dumbledore had sent him down. The old coot would probably call Snape into his office tomorrow to report on the 'quality time' they'd spent together.
Snape returned to the common room bearing a tea set and two full cups. Professor Eppes was perched awkwardly on the edge of the couch, his face radiating nervousness. Setting one cup in front of Charlie, Snape took a seat in a large chair opposite, his own cup balanced on his knee. He watched with satisfaction as Charlie sipped at the tea, which Severus had laced with a small amount of calming drought. His own tea had been laced with a liberal dose of brandy, a necessity if Snape had to push forward with pleasantries between them.
"What did you do before?" Snape asked evenly, referring back to Charlie's earlier comment of inexperience.
Charlie blinked, too new to the campus to be able to read into Dumbledore's manipulations. He took a long moment before he spoke, his voice carrying a neutral tone as if more than mere physical distance separated him from his life in the United States.
"I was a college professor." Charlie stared into his tea as he spoke, long curls draping down to frame his face. "I taught advanced math at CalSci, for the most part." At Severus' blank look he elaborated. "It's a Southern California technical university, in Los Angeles."
"Rather young to be a professor, aren't you?" He'd assumed that Hogwarts was Professor Eppes' first teaching job. Charlie looked too young to have had a position at another university for more than a spare handful of years.
Professor Eppes shrugged, a rueful smile crossing his face. "I was a bit of a child protégé. I graduated high school when I was thirteen, and published my first mathematical treatise by fourteen."
Severus' eyebrows arched high at the admission. "Impressive. I can understand why Dumbledore chose you, despite what I'm guessing is a thoroughly muggle education."
Charlie shrugged. "There wasn't much of any sort of formal wizarding school near Los Angeles, so they arranged for me to have a few special teachers when I was old enough."
The old memories brought back a rueful smile to the young man's face, his face brighter than it had been his entire stay here. Snape could tell that Charlie was a happy man by nature, given the ease of his smile. He wondered vaguely what had happened to cause his current almost-constant melancholy.
"Arithmancy's the only thing I'm good at," Charlie admitted with a rueful shrug, "since, well... it's numbers."
Snape nodded, and found himself watching the professor with renewed interest. "What was the other part?"
Charlie tilted his head in confusion, a look that, if Severus were to allow himself such frivolous thoughts, he almost found endearing. "Pardon?"
"Earlier you mentioned you were a professor 'for the most part'. That implies you had another profession."
"Oh." All the cheerfulness that had worked its way into Charlie's countenance during their conversation disappeared in an instant. Here, Snape thought, was the source of the melancholy. "I worked with my brother a bit." Which meant that something had happened between him and his brother to send him off to another country.
"And what did he do?" Snape pushed the issue. This was what Dumbledore wanted after all. He'd sent Professor Eppes here so that Snape could pull out the reason for his dark mood and give him a chance to open up to someone trustworthy. He would have been honored by Dumbledore's faith in him if it hadn't meant that Snape had to open up to someone.
"He was in the FBI." Professor Eppes was apparently full of surprises. The content of the statement was enough to shock him, but then he examined the grammar. Was. Suddenly the situation became a lot clearer.
"Ah." Snape sipped at his tea while he tried to gather his thoughts. Sympathy was not part of his nature and to offer it was somewhat unusual for him. "I'm sorry."
Charlie looked away, shaking his head quickly. "It's okay."
"If you need to talk..." Surprisingly, Snape found that he genuinely meant the offer. The small smile Charlie graced him with was worth it.
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
Snape dismissed the thanks with a wave of his hand. He reached for the kettle to refill their cups only to find that the tea was already gone. With a muttered excuse, he stepped into the kitchen to mix a fresh pot. By the time he returned minutes later, Charlie was gone.
Snape took one look at Harry Potter's essay on the uses of Vetivert Root and tossed the entire remainder of the stack aside. He'd get to those later when he wasn't in such a congenial mood. Setting his pen aside, he stood and headed for the kitchenette to make a fresh kettle of tea.
"Do you need any help?" Charlie called from where he'd been seated on the floor by the coffee table. After the first time Charlie had been sent to Snape for 'help', he'd been back at least twice a week since, with actual questions on grading. Now, Charlie was here almost every night. Sometimes they chatted, normally they just sat and graded papers, Charlie at the coffee table and Snape in his armchair.
"No," Snape called back as he filled a kettle with water and placed it over a small open flame. The jar of leaves he favored, a pleasant Earl Grey blend, was still out on the counter from their last pot. He spooned a small amount into a round tea-strainer before throwing that into the pot.
Snape lounged against the corner of the doorframe as he waited for the tea to boil, absently watching Charlie grade his Arithmancy essays. He'd found himself growing somewhat fond of the other professor. Well, more than fond if he was to be completely honest, but he'd limited those kinds of thoughts to mere idle contemplations. For now, he was merely relieved to find someone on the teaching staff that was tolerable for long periods of time.
Charlie looked up after a moment, smiling brightly at Snape. For his part, their time together had done much to improve Professor Eppes' temperament. While he still carried a distinct forlornness with him, the mood was more of an absent habit, chased away by an easy smile whenever Charlie's attention was firmly focused on something in the present.
"Why do you always make tea the muggle way?"
The question snapped Severus out of his contemplation and he smiled a small half-smile. Charlie'd finally started to pick up the vocabulary of proper speech. "It's relaxing," he answered finally. It was like a potion, requiring precise measurements and methodology to brew a perfect cup.
"Ah." Charlie was smiling again as he marked off a letter grade at the top of his last paper, most likely an A given Professor Eppes' far too lenient grading.
Snape turned as soon as he heard the kettle start to sing, flicking his wand with a muttered command to bring their tea cups floating over to him to be refilled. Plucking the kettle off the fire with a pot holder and pouring out two cups. He put a liberal amount of cream and sugar in one, Charlie's, and left his own undressed.
Charlie's attention was focused on the top of Snape's essays, a slight frown marring the young professor's face. "Harry Potter? That's the famous student right?"
"Infamous would be more precise." Snape pulled the paper away with a snort. "He's an attention starving brat."
"According to Arithmancy he's imaginative, creative and likes to keep the peace. All his numbers point to great success." There was that blinding smile again, Snape thought. He certainly couldn't fault Professor Eppes on his passion for the subject, even if the focus was currently misplaced.
"I don't believe in that sort of foolery," Severus sneered. He'd always categorized Arithmancy the same as Astrology and Divination – useless frivolities.
Charlie shrugged off the insult good-naturedly "I've always found it accurate for myself."
He had to admit to a certain curiosity about what Charlie's personality was according to the numbers. "And what does it say about you?"
A self-effacing grin crossed Charlie's face. "It says I want to be what I'm not."
Severus raised an eyebrow but didn't comment on the length of Charlie's description. "And me?"
Charlie's grin widened, turning half-teasing. "It says that you're withdrawn and moody but intensely loyal. You're self-conscious about your looks. An inventor, you like your independence and hate working with others. You're a loner and incredibly domineering."
His face withered into a frown. The remarks were far too accurate for his liking. "That doesn't fit me at all."
"It also says that you don't hide behind masks, and you take what you want."
Snape wasn't sure if he was reading those words like the invitation they seemed. His dark mood lifted, just a touch, as he snorted derisively. "I still don't think it means much."
"I think it does." Was that hope lining Charlie's voice? Did he perhaps... no, that thought was absurd. Charlie was most certainly not interested in him.
"You barely know me." And yet he somehow wished Charlie would know him better.
Charlie smiled, his good nature seeming to shine through Snape's sarcasm and biting words. "I know numbers."
Snape turned with a sigh, glaring at two students lingering in the halls until they moved their sudden whispering into one of the off-shooting corridors.
"Oh good," Charlie panted slightly as he skidded to a halt beside Snape. "I wasn't sure if I'd catch you before I left."
"It appears you have," Severus drawled. His curiosity was mildly piqued by the wrapped package that Charlie carried.
"Here." Snape no longer had to wonder as the package was suddenly thrust at him. The rectangular object was somewhat heavy, and he stared blankly at it for the moment before Charlie spoke. "It's a present. A Christmas present, actually. To thank you for all your help this past semester. I wouldn't have lasted this long without you.
Severus snorted. "I don't need your thanks."
Charlie shrugged easily, reading the statement for the thanks it was theoretically meant as. "I know, but I wanted to. Being around you has helped me get over..." The sentence faltered as Charlie's eyes fell to the floor in sadness.
"Your brother?" Snape correctly guessed.
"Yeah," Charlie nodded. His head snapped up suddenly to meet Snape's eyes. "It was my fault you know," he blurted abruptly. "I was consulting them on a case and I predicted something wrong. It wouldn't have changed things, really. The situation had nothing to do with the numbers. There were unexpected variables... I couldn't see that then. I wish things could have been different, but here I am." A small smile graced Charlie's lips as he stretched up on his toes to kiss Snape lightly on the cheek.
Snape was quite certain that his expression was similar to as if he had been run through with an ox.
"Thanks," Charlie finished simply, turning just as a slight redness started to creep across his face. "I'll be back in a week."
Then he was gone.
Snape spent the rest of the past week in his quarters, sitting in his favorite armchair in front of the fireplace reading the book Charlie had bought him. It was a muggle book on Arithmancy and fortune-telling, and Snape would have never in a thousand years picked it up if it hadn't been a gift. Strangely he found himself enjoying it, although half of the time his thoughts wandered until he had no idea what he'd just read.
He'd thought a lot over the past week about their brief parting and what it meant. There were a number of different ways he could interpret the kiss, an infinite dimension of harmless meanings, but no matter what reason he came up with his mind always went back to Charlie's Arithmancy. He didn't hide, it said, and took what he wanted. He knew what he wanted.
He was prepared on the day Charlie was scheduled to come back. The morning was spent in his quarters, alternating between making tea, thumbing through the book, and wearing a groove into his carpet with all his pacing. When the expected knock on his door came at just past one, he was ready, swooping up a package remarkably similar to the one he'd received on the way to the door. The package was dropped into Charlie's hands the minute the portrait was open, and he had his hand on Charlie's back the second he was inside, pulling the young man close enough to lean down and kiss him firmly on the lips.
Snape wasn't hiding, and he certainly was going after what he wanted. From the way Charlie responded to the kiss, he wanted the same thing.
"Why the sudden change of heart?" Charlie asked with a distracted smile as soon as they parted, his head resting lightly against Severus' chest.
"I decided that I should probably listen to all that Arithmancy nonsense you were spouting." In translation, that was probably about as close as he was going to get to complementing Charlie in the near future.
Charlie's smile told him that he'd read it as such. "Numbers don't lie."
Snape found that he couldn't disagree. Arithmancy couldn't be all that bad. After all, this was where numbers had landed them.