These characters and their setting are the property of J. Rowling and her associates and affiliates.

A/N: This has been sitting in my WIP folder for a while but I hesitated to post it because I wanted to learn more about ordinary British life, and lately I didn't think I could finish it before Rowlings' final book. But I am taking my inspiration from DUJ who just published one of hers. And so what if I can't finish in time? There are a lot of writers who probably won't finish theirs either! Does that mean we stop? My other two stories are AU anyway, so what's one more? This one isn't an epic. It probably won't top ten chapters, and my "Bring it on" has only three more chapters to go. If my descriptions of British Muggle life sound more like American Muggle life... or neither... please grant me mercy. And if there are any British betas out there who would like to help me, drop me a line!

A/N #2: I came up with this idea, believe it or not, in church so the overall story has some religious overtones. If this offends you, do not read it. There is nothing blatant. I shall mention no religion specifically, nor shall I quote anyone's scriptures, but there is a spiritual idea involved that I think anyone of faith will understand.

I am certainly not trying to insinuate that this story is divinely inspired, or that God told me to write it. Whether or not God takes a deep interest in something as mundane as fanfiction is anyone's guess. All I can say is that I was sitting in church the day after HBP came out, mourning the loss of my current stories and wondering what was going to take the place of my writing. Writing fanfiction had given me such joy and it was an outlet in an otherwise stressful life. The only problem was the HBP temporarily destroyed the only stories I was interested in writing. I didn't have any other stories and I can't just MAKE inspiration happen. It either comes into my head or it doesn't.

So I prayed for something-- anything-- any new story to fill the void... and I got this idea. To me it was a gift. Of course I wound up going on with my other stories. I have Country Mouse to thank for that! She sent me the nicest letter asking me, and all her other "in progress" writers to finish our now AU stories. When DH comes out, if I'm not finished with this story I'm going to keep going too.

This story is an alternate ending to the Half Blood Prince.

A BENEVOLENT PUNISHMENT

Chapter 1: What am I Doing Here?

Snape lifted the chalk and proceeded to mark a series of symbols on the blackboard.

"While I am preparing these equations, I want someone to give me, again, the value of Avogadro's Number." He paused only briefly. "Miss Barnes?"

He hadn't looked to see if the student in question had raised her hand. Snape never called on anyone who had their hand raised and he was more than certain that Emma Barnes would never willingly volunteer information. There was a few seconds of silence where only the tapping of his chalk could be heard.

"I am waiting, Miss Barnes..."

"Ah... Um... sixty two?"

The hand marking numbers on the board paused for a second and, in the absence of the tapping sound, the nervous stir from the students was far more audible. They had every reason to be nervous. Snape sent up a momentary prayer for patience though he was unsure at this point who to address it to, or if it would ever be answered at all.

"Sixty... TWO?" he repeated slowly. He put down the chalk and turned to stare down at his students, addressing the class by way of the unfortunate girl he had decided to pick on that day. "Miss Barnes, I distinctly remember you being present in this room yesterday when we discussed Avogadro and his number. You did pay attention Miss Barnes... did you not? You DID take... notes, didn't you?"

The girl's stricken eyes looked like those of an immobilized deer.

"Can anyone else in this class inform Miss Barnes as to the correct value of Avogadro's Number?" Snape's eyes raked each youthful face in turn. No one volunteered. He turned his attention back to his current victim and assailed the rest of the students through her. "DID you take notes?"

She nodded red faced.

"Well, then," he continued softly. "We will all wait impatiently while you page through your notes until you find information concerning Mr. Avogadro..." His voice took on a dangerous edge.

The student fumbled frantically through her notebook, making lots of noise in the now hushed classroom, while those around her flashed her covert looks of sympathy. Finally she found something.

"Six- point- oh- two times ten to the twenty- third power," she stammered.

"Well it's about time!" he snarled sourly before addressing the entire class. "YES. That is the answer. Six- Point- Oh- Two times Ten to the Twenty-third Power!" He wrote it loudly with chalk on the side of the board and wondered to himself if this class just seemed more idiotic today or if it was only that his patience was at an all-time low. One needed the patience of a saint to teach here-- patience he surely didn't have.

"And what does the term 'ten to the twenty-third power' mean Mr. Stoddard?"

A pudgy boy in the back row jumped a little and looked up at him in frantic alarm.

"It's... uh... ten times ten twenty three times."

"Which means..."

"You have to add twenty three zeros to the number."

Snape's voice rose. "YOU, Mr. Stoddard, were not paying attention EITHER! Is that really your problem boy, or is it that your skull is simply too thick to allow useful information to penetrate? One does not add twenty three zeros to the number! It means, in layman's terms, that the decimal point needs to be moved twenty-three places to the right to display the full number, and that it has been moved twenty-three places to the left to give us workability!

He wrote the number loudly on the board in all its length and glory, and turned back to look at the class. A stealthy movement in the fourth row caught his attention.

"I'll take that Mr. Powers!" He strode toward a tall, redheaded oaf who handed over a folded piece of paper with scant evidence of remorse on his genially stupid face. "Passing notes in class gets you a detention this evening."

With a nasty flourish, he unfolded the note and read it aloud to the class in a slow, derisive manner.

"Dear Priscilla... my... sweetums." A pretty blond girl two rows away blushed and giggled. "Meet me in the back pasture by the oak tree at 3:15 for a Super... Mega... Snog-a-thon..." The whole class burst into laughter and Snape continued with pronounced sarcasm, "Snog-a-thon... I suppose for a mind as bovine as yours, that constitutes the absolute height of romantic subtlety and refinement. What a pity you won't be able to make that assignation since the only place you're going to be at 3:15 is here serving detention!"

The boy smirked and looked around at his classmates as though checking for applause. "Aw, C'mon Mr. Snape..." he drawled.

"This classroom. After school. Today," Snape continued in a voice of deadly quiet. "And I think the invitation should be extended to Miss Garfield as well, since she seems to be a party to your crimes."

The blond looked up in instant outrage. "But that's not fair, sir!"

"I will see both of you after class," he purred acidly. "Now let's see if we can get back to our elementary lesson in chemistry." He walked back to the board. "We were discussing Avogadro's Number. I don't suppose any of you can tell me what we actually DO with it-- how it applies to these equations?"

No one raised their hands or indicated in any way that they were prepared to tackle the problems on the blackboard.

"Do any of you actually LISTEN in class?" he snapped. "Believe it or not, the purpose of attending school is to learn, not to sit stupidly in your seats and stare blankly in front of you like a herd of human cattle! Science instruction-- in this case, Chemistry-- is a required element in your curriculum. Now I do realize that most of you are destined for glorious careers in manual labor, where you will probably never use anything resembling science ever again, but since the Board of Governors has employed me to teach it to you, that is precisely what I shall endeavor to do! Now, open your books to page 369. Mr. Powers, read the first paragraph loud enough for us all to hear. Do it... Now!"

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Snape sat at his desk and corrected third form tests on Volcanism while he kept watch over the two detention victims writing lines in front of him. He had debated whether he should have them copy out sentences such as, "Chemistry and gross stupidity do not mix," or "Students who pass notes instead of exams are idiots," but resigned himself to the traditional "I must not pass notes in class" written out one hundred times. After all, humor was wasted on chuckleheads such as these. They wouldn't understand it, and neither would their well-meaning but dull-witted parents.

He watched Rick Powers slouching in his seat. The boy's whole countenance was a picture of simple, good-natured arrogance as he laboriously scraped his pen on the paper-- all the while casting covert glances as Prissy Garfield doing the same. Snape noted with satisfaction that the girl didn't return her friend's glances, though it was possible she just didn't see his attempts to get her attention. The students had been seated as far from each other as their disgruntled teacher had been able to put them. Snape had wanted to give them a feeling of displacement in order to further their sense of disgrace. The gangling youth's hurt expression at his girl's lack of response gave Snape a grim flash of pleasure.

Why did he feel this way? he wondered as he turned his attention back to the exams he was marking. Why did certain students irritate him so much more than others? There was no logic to it. While Powers was an empty headed, athletic moron who cared more for soccer and rugby than he did anything else, in this out-of-the-way provincial school he was in good company. There were plenty of his fellows-- Brent Johnson, Jimmy Collins, and Eddie Long, to name a few-- who were just as bad , if not worse, than he was. But for some reason, Snape could tolerate those boys far easier than he could young Powers. There was something in the sight of that loose-limbed, long-nosed form with its shock of red hair and freckly face that sparked ire in him like few other students did. And there were others who bothered him too.

In the first form there was a dark haired boy with round-rimmed spectacles that made Snape shiver with secret revulsion. The boy was just an ordinary, unprepossessing youth. He wasn't even a troublemaker. Why should he feel such a strong aversion to him? It was almost as if the child reminded him of someone else, someone he had known once before who had caused him trouble-- a person he had hated, or who had perhaps hated him. But try though he might, Snape could think of no one he had ever known who resembled either of these boys, or any of the other students who rubbed him inexplicably the wrong way.

Surely this was all some silly trick of his mind-- a figment of his imagination or some weird personality quirk. Except that Snape didn't believe in random quirks. His scientific nature demanded that phenomena such as these had to come from something. Everything had to have a cause. It was odd that he could think of nothing that would trigger this emotional sort of reaction in him, but he knew there had to be something.

He glanced at the clock on the wall at the far end of the classroom. Snape had placed it there, instead of the traditional place in the front above the blackboard, so that he could see it throughout the day and mark the time until the end of school. There were days he hung on the movements of that clock, inwardly rejoicing with the passing of every hour. He didn't give a damn if the students couldn't see it. He felt it best not to give them distractions. Snape would have covered the very windows with black shades if he could, to keep the students from looking out of them.

The clock read 3:35. It didn't seem possible that only twenty minutes had passed! Why was it that time moved with the speed of an arthritic tortoise when he was stuck in this classroom? He watched the hulking redhead twitch his shoulders restlessly while he bent his head over the lines he was writing. He also watched the girl glance winsomely over at the boy. Snape scowled at, that but neither of the students saw it. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose in weariness.

What in the world was he doing here? Why was he teaching? He could think of nothing in his present position that was actually suited to him. Why was he working in this god-forsaken rural backwater, at this tiny regional school, trying to teach the general sciences to country bumpkins?

He should be tinkering in a laboratory somewhere, discovering new substances and making exciting breakthroughs. He should be part of an elite research group pursuing secret, esoteric knowledge for some high level corporation. If he had to be a teacher at all, it should be at a university where brilliant, motivated students appreciated the finer points of Physics and Chemistry. Barring that, he should at least have a position at a prestigious private school such as Eaton or Harrow-- institutions that would guarantee him higher quality minds to teach. There was no logical reason why someone of his talent and potential should be buried in this tiny town as a village schoolmaster. Yet as far back as he could remember, he had always been a teacher...

Snape finished the volcanism tests and began next with his pile of biology quizzes. He ground his teeth as he checked through them. The results were typical of the low quality minds, or was it low quality motivation, that he had to deal with here. It was unbelievable. "Name the five stages in cell mitosis." No one, so far, had them all correct. This was an easy subject-- almost all simple memorization with no mathematics involved-- and still, not one student could name the steps in the correct order, or even remember what all of them were.

No... strike that. There was one student, Miss Fisher, who had them all right. He should have expected it because she always did. A shiver ran through him at the child's small, neat handwriting and correctly spelled answers. Candace Fisher was another of his students who sent him strange vibes. She bothered him and she really, really shouldn't. There was no reason at all why a teacher searching for excellence, for brilliance, should be so irritated by the only student who actually displayed any. But he was.

Miss Fisher's confident, eager manner and effortless competence made him uneasy. Her frequently raised hand irked him. Just the knowledge that she knew the answer... again, made him almost angry. Snape knew he shouldn't treat her the way he often did, but he didn't seem to be able to help it. Her presence felt wrong somehow. He always had a vague feeling that her name or her appearance wasn't entirely right. Every time he looked up or turned around and saw her, it always seemed to hit him with a little jolt of surprise that she looked the way that she did, that her face was not somehow different.

These were odd feelings, perhaps crazy feelings. Why in the world should he have such feelings? They made absolutely no sense. What could possibly be wrong with him? Again, what was he doing here?

The next glance at the clock showed him that it was approaching 4:00. Almost on cue, his detention students rose and came forward with their papers of lines. They looked covertly at each other as they shuffled towards their teacher's desk, the little veiled smiles they flashed each other were adolescent flags of invitation. Snape watched them file out of the room and knew that he had only delayed their little tryst. They'd be kissing, or worse, in some back field somewhere. He didn't know why that affronted him so badly, but it did-- especially since it involved Powers.

He sighed as he packed his remaining papers into his satchel and prepared to leave. What students did after they left his classroom was not his concern. If this were a boarding school, it would be a different matter, but of course he was not fortunate enough to be teaching at a boarding school...

After donning his long, black "great" coat, Snape picked up his satchel, his hat, and his emergency umbrella and began the two mile trek to his bedsitter in town. The locals always looked at him strangely because he walked instead of drove, but then they thought much of what he did was odd or strange. For the most part Snape didn't care what they thought-- or if he sometimes did, he found it only another irritation piled up on the broken camel's back that was his frustrated life. He continued his habit of walking anyway. He just couldn't help it.

Snape did have a driver's license, but he used it for identification purposes only. When questioned exhaustively as to why he didn't own a car, or want to buy any of the vehicles local people continually wanted to sell him, he would reply (acidly) that the dismally low salary he received as a teacher here didn't afford him the means to purchase a car, let alone keep one. Besides, walking was scientifically better for one's health. The real reason was something Snape could never, ever tell them.

The reason he didn't drive was just as uncanny, just as crazy, as his odd reaction to certain of his students. He didn't think he could actually do it. Snape had memories of owning a car, and memories of driving one, but they were vague, shadowy memories. He couldn't really recall what driving felt like. There seemed to be no specific memories of the mechanics of motor vehicle operation, and whenever he got into a car and sat behind the wheel, it felt so frighteningly alien to him that he had to get out immediately. He didn't even think he could say for certain what any of the vehicle's controls did.

In his worse moments, Snape suspected he was going mad, that he had some obscure form of schizophrenia that manifested itself in strange aversions or fetishes. He had even wondered once, after suffering an alarming sense of displacement in the presence of ordinary things, whether he might possible have a brain tumor. That, he had had checked out. He had made a trip, by train, to have himself examined by a physician, but no neuro expert had found anything wrong with him. He had instead been encouraged to take some rest or find a hobby, and of course seek therapy. Not that there was any therapy to be had for love or money in this out-of-the-way village... and not that he would ever have sought it.

A farm truck passed him and the driver waved. Snape recognized him as the father of Miss Garfield, and nodded solemnly in return. He wondered if good old farmer Garfield aught to be told what his daughter was engaged in doing at that moment... Too many female students dropped out of school due to untimely pregnancies. But no local wanted a teacher from "outside" to interfere with their business. They hadn't appreciated his attempts to revise the curriculum or to make the school more modern and efficient. They certainly wouldn't accept his input about local morals. None of it was his concern.

He continued on into town, and upon entering it, went first to the post office to check his box. He picked up his latest magazines and journals, tossed out the advertisements and credit card applications, and put the few bills he had in his satchel. There were no personal letters for him-- not that he thought that there would be.

"Package for you today, Professor," said the post-master, lifting it up with maddening familiarity to read the label aloud. "Barnes and Noble. Looks like books again. I say, Professor. You sure like to read your books!"

Snape took the parcel and thanked the man curtly. The locals had taken to calling him "Professor" because he was a teacher and he liked to read-- and because he was stiff and proper and had no interest in all the normal things they thought important. Even though the nickname was usually applied in a friendly manner, they probably didn't mean it as a compliment. Snape was an oddity and they didn't understand him. He had also never made any serious attempt to make them do so. Oddly enough, Snape didn't mind it.

For some reason, being called "professor" felt right to him. He didn't know why that should be, since he had never taught in a college, but he had a distinct feeling that he had been called so before. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking-- a figment of false memory, like a deviant deja voux springing from a desperate desire to be more important than he was. Whatever. He never took offense at the name and he never acted like he even noticed it. If he did that they might call him something worse. There were obviously worse monikers they could stick him with, and he had a feeling that he had suffered such in the past. If he felt any irritation, he kept it to himself.

The next stop for him was the tiny public library in the village center. He should be thankful at least that they had a library... such as it was. But it was a poor excuse for one, and it suited the locals just fine. The principle offerings were bodice-ripper romances and lurid who-done-its. Of course it did feature the Encyclopedia Britannica, and copious amounts of farming manuals. The plump, elderly librarian smiled at him as he entered.

"Ah, it's our Professor, and right on time! I had a feeling you'd be coming in today. The books you wanted on loan from London have arrived. My, my! Such books! Molecular Chemistry and Meta-materials, Indexes of Refraction and the Implications for Invisibility. Dear me, I hope you're not going to try to teach this in your classes!"

"Hardly," said Snape briefly. "I can't even get them to remember Avogadro's Number."

"Who's number?"

"Avogadro. He was a nineteenth century Italian physicist and chemist."

"You don't say. Italian, huh? Why is his number so important?"

Snape sighed. "It has something to do with chemistry."

It was best not to try to explain. No one was interested. No one understood him. There was no one here that he could talk to about the things he found important. Somehow, some way, he seemed to be currently trapped in Purgatory with no idea how, or for what reason, he had been placed there. Loneliness, spiritual as well as physical, appeared to be his lot in life-- though the loneliness, like the odd feelings and aversions, seemed to be a normal state for him. He was used, at least, to the loneliness, if not the boredom and frustration. But he couldn't help wondering why that should be.

''Ah, well. It's all Greek to me! I'll just stick to my romances and leave the hard reading to you." She picked up her latest Nora Roberts and waved him cheerily on. "At least these should keep you busy for a while. Enjoy your reading, Professor!"

Snape nodded and left. At the most, he had about a week's respite from boredom in these books, perhaps a little more if he counted his journals and the volumes he had bought from mail order. Such tiny straws to grasp at in his miserable life! There was so much to learn and he was so far behind... And where would it all lead him anyway? What could he do with all the knowledge he wanted to have in this tiny, provincial hole, and with his thankless job as a school teacher? What am I doing here?

Professor, they had called him. How he wished. How he so very badly wished...

A/N #3: I know. ANOTHER Author's Note! What is wrong with this writer? I'm sorry, but I just can't help it. I have some lines of a song stuck in my head-- lines that inspired the name of this chapter. It is an obscure old Moody Blues ballad that has nothing to do with the content of my chapter, but has the correct mood of melancholy. I can hear Justin Hayward's haunting voice wailing plaintively in my mind...

Pale, young squire who goes to fight

And I at my master's side.

Living is just a dream inside

You ask me why he cries...

What am I doing here? What am I doing here?

Beautiful princess fair and pale

Stares out across the sea

Alone in her castle dark and gray

Her love she'll never see.

What am I doing here? What am I doing here?

Tenderly bury the fair young dead

Place a wooden cross at his head

All the words you can say have been said

It's for you my tears are shed...

What can be done, you won't believe

Listen and you may see

Everyone's dream is deep within

Find it and you'll be free

What am I doing here? What am I doing here?