Summary: An increasingly impatient Snape ushers the unplanned guest off Hogwarts' grounds. Overall story occurs from CoS to post-DH, disregarding the Epilogue.
Warnings: AU, EWE. Rating: T. Ingredients/treatments in this fiction story should not be used except in consultation with a qualified medical doctor.
Credits: Heartfelt thanks to the skilled Nólemë for betaing P&H. ~ References include The Harry Potter Lexicon and Potterwords for canon, and . for non-canon Latin.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to J. K. Rowling. No copyright infringements are intended, and no profit is made from this fanfic.
As owls swooped through the Great Hall's windows to deposit the morning's mail and newspapers, a large, brown-streaked bird fluttered to a stop before Minerva McGonagall, who glanced at the package it clutched before untying the burden and offering it some crisp bacon. Satisfied with the treat, the owl lifted off, heading southwards once out the window.
When Nadia arrived in the Transfiguration office to begin the work day, McGonagall handed her the package. "For you," the witch said simply, returning to her desk.
Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, the return address said. Nadia ripped open the plain wrappings and pulled out a basic black robe in a mid-weight fabric and inexpensive, short boots.
"Since you are on staff, the Headmaster and I thought you should have these," the Deputy Headmistress said. "I understand that they aren't garments you're accustomed to wearing, but they would be most appropriate at school-day meals and formal occasions." She paused. "Also, whenever working with Severus. He is very traditional."
Minerva Transfigured a wall panel into a full-length mirror. "I can quickly fix anything that needs adjusting."
Thus prompted, Nadia hesitantly tried on the robe and boots. There was adequate room when she flexed her arms, shoulders and toes, and the light wool hung to mid-calf. Although the boots' soles were smooth, she noticed when stepping to the temporary mirror that they seemed to grip the smooth stone tiles.
Mixed feelings arose as Nadia examined the reflected image. It was strange seeing herself in such unaccustomed garb, yet the plain garment, devoid of any Hogwarts symbols, looked somewhat like a choir robe.
Witches' portrayals in story books and history sprung to her mind. Nadia was coming to realize that real wizard folk had the same basic concerns as non-magical people. But based on the wizarding history, she knew that this new world also was considerably more dangerous than hers. The Voldemort War had ended only 12 years earlier, and some supporters were still on the loose.
If this bit of clothing helped camouflage her, she would gladly wear it. Besides, it would help protect her other clothes—and there wasn't a pointy hat.
"Thank you, and to Professor Dumbledore," she said humbly.
Nodding, McGonagall returned the wall to its former state, and floated a pile of parchments and items toward her assistant. "More reports," she said, "As you have time, you might want to know more about day-to-day wizard life. I've collected these journal and magazine articles over the years to help Muggle-borns learn more, if they ask."
Nadia tilted her head. "If they ask? They probably wouldn't know what to ask."
Rising to head toward her classroom, Minerva looked at her thoughtfully. "I suppose not. But they are usually so busy with their school work that they think of little else. There are exceptions, of course."
"That Granger girl." Nadia had noticed that the young Gryffindor always had a huge pile of books around her in the library.
McGonagall smiled proudly. "Yes, Miss Granger wants to learn everything. She has a very bright future before her."
The school clock's loud bong alerted both that class time had arrived. McGonagall sailed through the door adjoining the classroom, and Nadia quietly followed, slipping to the back to work through the morning lessons.
Snape was very traditional, indeed. He'd lost the argument with Dumbledore and McGonagall –the school's senior Gryffindors—about allowing the Muggle to wear a robe. The fact that it was illegal for a Muggle to wear wizarding clothes fell on deaf ears, as did his perfect reasoning.
Of course, he kept to himself any positive points about the matter. Miss Beecham's shapely figure wasn't lost on the young Hogwarts men, and the robe would serve to cover her a bit.
Adolescent men and women in close proximity was a proven recipe for disaster, and there had been plenty of Potions accidents over the years because of too much attention to the opposite sex and too little to the work at hand. The American interloper's presence was one more distraction for the boys. However, Snape couldn't find enough fault to call her to task; she was always careful when bending and stretching that décolletage wasn't exposed, damn her. To broach that topic to the Headmaster would mean Snape dwelled on such things about colleagues—even pseudo-colleagues.
Instead, Snape kept a close eye on his pupils. A loud wand slap against the table was sufficient to snap them back to reality, and gave him some satisfaction.
For her part, Nadia found Severus Snape's lectures fascinating. The material was esoteric to her Muggle ears, and the Potions practicals were intriguing—steam and bubbles rising, flashes of light and changing colors, unusual scents, both compelling and repulsive, all resulting in rows of gleaming bottles lining the master's desk. Even the failures were rather spectacular, in her eyes, and she was always astonished at Snape's ability to effortlessly Vanish the worst mixes.
The single most engrossing aspect of class, however, was his voice. On the days Snape spent the majority of time lecturing, she found herself lured by the authoritative baritone that smoothly wove itself through her mind like a silken scarf. His command of language, clear articulation, expert modulation and projecting timbre were great pleasures.
But there was something more, an element that was hard to pinpoint. His voice was the embodied definition of bewitchment, and he spoke low, forcing students and colleagues alike to pay attention. If ever she doubted magic's overwhelming power, she need only recall the Potion master's alluring voice.
Minerva McGonagall was enjoying if not a return to youth, then at least some added vitality. Her assistant was proving herself a match to the Ministry of Magic's Education Department, dealing quickly and efficiently with dispatches, forms, narratives and new rules issued by the department's bureaucrats, some of whom the teacher recalled did quite poorly at HogwartsogwartsH. Jeremiah Birdstock, in particular, had written the most abysmal essays, so the Deputy Headmistress found it off-putting that he now demanded reports from his former instructors.
Minerva happily turned over many such duties, freeing herself to do more hands-on administration. She, of course, subjected Miss Beecham's work to the highest scrutiny, and had found that after a few initial misunderstandings, the girl was an intelligent, if entirely unexpected, addition to staff.
By the end of the first two weeks in McGonagall's classroom and office, Nadia had become more or less accustomed to hearing strange instructions, wand-waving, and interesting accidents of magic. With Minerva's permission, she made the already organized files and supplies in McGonagall's office easier to find and use. The fourth week she drew up charts showing all of the Deputy Headmistress' required work by category and due dates, and developed a calendar that allowed a more leisurely pace in tackling the work.
Snape, on the other hand, did not want interference in his world of potions-making instruction nor in any other area. Not only were the new First-Years a particularly unpromising batch of loathsome idiots and accident-prone imbeciles, but now he was playing babysitter to a Muggle just eager to get her fingers into everything and cause endless problems. No, he was not about to turn over even the most mundane paperwork to her; she could haul supplies, clean the glassware, line up bottles, and copy instructions by hand for distribution. Assuming he didn't have any students in detention, she could also clean cauldrons and floors, as needed. At least on her hands and knees she wouldn't be getting into his files, his ingredients, and his hair.
Snape dutifully kept a careful eye on the unwanted guest, but that didn't mean he had to accept her. In the staff room, he observed her giving background to the wide-eyed and delighted Muggle Studies teacher. Dumbledore allowed her to attend one of Sinistra's astronomy classes, loaned a Hogwarts house-elf to alter her old clothes, and granted her virtually free run of the library. Snape himself had asked Beecham about her activities amongst the books, assessing whether she'd set foot near the Restricted Section. He'd instructed Madame Pince to inform him if the woman dared to request access.
At night, a Head of House—Dumbledore preferred Snape or McGonagall—was to escort her to her tower. When she bridled at being treated as less than an adult, he caustically reminded her that only days earlier, she didn't believe in magic. "What more in the Wizarding world might there be," he asked, "that you had thought only fairy tales?" Since then, she cast nervous glances over her shoulder and quickened her steps. The thought of her having self-imposed nightmares warmed him.
In what little time he could spare, Snape occasionally tracked her comings and goings. He trailed her as she hiked around the lake and into the hills one weekend. Upon catching her "cutting corners slightly" to achieve her goal more quickly, he delivered a withering lecture about why she should avoid any foolhardy forays into the Forbidden Forest. Since then, she'd given the forest's edge wide berth. He was also well aware that she'd found an unused sixth-floor room where she practiced the lute; he stood outside listening while watching for (and occasionally catching) errant students who had no business on that floor. When he's reported her presence there, the Headmaster was unconcerned, observing, "I suppose a change of scenery would do anyone good."
His treatment of her was just tolerable, he knew. Dumbledore had instructed both him and McGonagall that they were to give her such work as they wished, so long as she was busy and they were aware of her activities. He'd authorize them to discipline her, if needed for her own good. During class, he only required her to stay out of the way, to be ever at the ready for errands he seldom gave, and to hold her tongue. He began requiring her to be present in his lab in the evenings, giving her menial, unpleasant chores.
It was just a matter of time, he knew, before Nadia Beecham made a stand. He knew she hadn't mentioned to Dumbledore or McGonagall her disappointment in his assignments, believing (and rightly so) that it would only make matters worse. So she'd been devising a plan to approach him. Foolish woman. Why does she suppose I don't know what she's thinking?
It amused him to know she was putting so much care and energy into her little scheme, all the while working like a house-elf in his lab while he experimented and committed Legilimency. She always tried to be friendly, greeting him upon coming and going each afternoon and evening, keeping her spirits up, doing her assigned work without complaint, sometimes asking questions about the day's classes or his latest projects. Once or twice, he actually answered her.
He knew she couldn't keep it up. She was just too nice, too efficient, too—well, damn it, available, as he'd caught some indiscrete Slytherins joking. (For their impudence—and for the carelessness of being overheard by anyone, especially their Head of House —he'd assigned them to write a research paper on an instructive topic: "How indiscretion has felled careers and lives.")
The last thing he needed was more people scrutinizing his life, and word spreading to parents and others. Watching out for The Boy Who Lived, who seemed determined to find trouble, was difficult enough.
And he didn't want a woman to care about him. Especially a woman who'd silently take such abuse. He grinned nastily. Meanwhile, I shall enjoy the sport.
Her plan was unveiled in mid-October, the day after a small delegation from the Ministry of Magic—including Lucius Malfoy—paid a visit to Albus Dumbledore, and the day of a cunning session-long pop quiz to which the Potions master subjected his afternoon Fourth-Years.
A couple of Ravenclaws who'd had the temerity to whisper during his Fifth-Year lecture were serving detention, so Nadia pulled her evening work duty afterward. The skirt she wore reached just below her knees but had originally been ankle-length, Snape knew, since he'd been asked to check the Chittleham shipment. She bent to pick up a box, and the dark fabric outlined her shapely bum. Snape averted his eyes, his teeth set on edge. She does have certain … charms, he thought bitterly, but she should use common sense in a school half-filled with teen-aged boys.
Nadia finally finished the menial tasks at ten. Wiping the sweat from her brow and picking up the cardigan she'd removed, she approached Snape's office desk.
"May I have a moment, Professor?"
He looked up from marking tests without setting aside the quill.
"Sir, I very much understand that you like to get things done and you like them done well, because I'm the same. I'm a perfectionist about my work, and hate getting so-called assistance from someone who does it wrong because I wind up doing it all over.
"Even though many things here are strange to me, there are similarities in the work, and I've quickly caught on to the Ministry's reports and routine paperwork Professor McGonagall has assigned. Bureaucracy is the same everywhere. That kind of paperwork never goes away—it just changes, increases, or both.
"Admittedly, I never studied chemistry or physics. But I do have a good background in biology, I know a lot about plants, I've been reading one of the basic Potions reference books to learn about the ingredients and equipment that must be reported on and to help with the supplies closet, and I am a quick study.
"I could work on only the simple forms required of you, and would do everything always according to your instructions, and with your review and approval. Professor McGonagall's charmed a quill that writes in her hand. You could do the same. I would never presume to sign or initial anything for you, but you could additionally fix it to make that impossible. When I'm not using it for what you've assigned me, you could keep it locked up.
"Start me off with something, take a look at it. If you have any doubts, give me a task you've already done and then see how my work compares." She swallowed hard before continuing. "Sir, I understand that you have a great many responsibilities. I just want to help lighten your load. Often just removing a small part can help, and I'd be very honored to do that."
Snape had watched unblinkingly and sat silently for what seemed minutes. Finally, he returned to scoring tests. "You may go, Miss Beecham," he said, eyes fixed on the parchment.
It was as if he'd slapped her. After a stunned moment, she left.
Snape concentrated on scoring, but his irritation interfered. Despite the Headmaster's order, he was disinclined to escort her. She's correct on two points: I have many responsibilities, and other people usually do it wrong. Her "help" would be just another mess I cannot pass off to some misbehaved student in detention.
He took satisfaction in being exacting on all the papers, even finding a loophole enabling him to mark Granger's down to "Acceptable." That would only spur the insufferable know-it-all into over-compensating in her studies, with the benefit of perhaps making her less available for Potter's and Weasley's plotting.
What he found most incensing about Beecham were her empathetic thoughts and emotions. Interfering, insinuating wench! What can she possibly know?
His habitual late-night rounds turned up one detention candidate on the grounds, granting him some satisfaction. Seeing a light in the staff room, he returned indoors to investigate. He quietly opened the door to find Beecham bent over her laptop, consulting a book and notes: Muggle Studies. After determining she was, indeed, fully concentrating on the Dumbledore-assigned project, he left as stealthily as he'd arrived.
Severus was finishing breakfast when Nadia arrived at the High Table. He waited until she'd just begun eating to push back his chair and stride across the platform, stopping directly behind her.
"Miss Beecham. A word," he said, bending closely. "Your services will not be needed during classes this afternoon. You shall meet with me in my office promptly at seven o'clock. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." She'd gone still, and her tone was hushed.
"Good." He left, his robe swishing, and with him went her appetite.
At the assigned time, Nadia was waiting at Snape's office door, and he silently allowed her inside, then walked the room's length to his desk, setting down papers before looking at her. It didn't take Legilimency for him to know she'd been worrying most of the day about this interview.
"So, Miss Beecham." Snape walked around his office work area and sat. "Apparently, you do not believe I am using you suitably."
"No, sir." Her mouth twisted as she immediately realized how he might take that. "I mean, it's your decision what tasks to assign me, professor."
"Indeed." She shifted uncomfortably, and he suppressed a sneer. Still no brass! he thought. "Which leaves the question as to why you saw it fit to lecture me last night."
She blanched and her eyes widened. "Professor, I wasn't lecturing. I really just want to help, sir."
"Scrubbing cauldrons and hauling rats' spleens is not using your … abilities?" he demanded disdainfully, his arms crossed. He could see that the insult beat her down; she was momentarily at a loss for words.
"Of course, sir, I'm quite capable of doing those things, if that's what you want." Her voice trailed. "But those aren't my talents."
Snape eyed her levelly. "Really. We shall see."
Opening a drawer, he pulled out a sheaf of papers. "These, Miss Beecham, are the papers that were necessary to file last year's annual Potions Grading and Achievements Report to the Ministry. Here is a blank form for you to try your hand. You may begin."
She took the papers, he checked his N.E. class' ongoing projects before returning to his latest experiment on a new use for Blast-Ended Skrewt nerve linings. Casting occasional glances her way, he saw she spent the first 15 minutes examining the form and the diverse information he'd provided, then set to work slowly. She worked industriously and did not consult him.
At half-past nine, she finished and nervously stood next to a lab table as Snape reviewed her work at his desk. He spent thirty minutes, carefully checking each page. It had taken her four times as long to replicate the report he'd turned in June 30. Considering how long it had taken him to do his very first, he allowed that her effort was … commendable. Since he'd joined Hogwarts' staff, the report's requirements had only become more complicated.
He motioned for her forward to stand before him, and he sat stony-faced.
"If I were to grade your results tonight, Miss Beecham, what would you expect?"
"I-I don't know, sir," she said, caught off guard. His demeanor made her question her work.
"Did you not suggest that you are perfectly capable of handling such assignments?" he pressed.
"Yes, sir. It seemed relatively routine. I believe it's correct."
Snape paused for effect, watching as Beecham's nerves got the better of her.
"If not for your handwriting, an E." His cold tone and manner expressed disparagement. "Therefore, a barely scraped Acceptable."
She grimaced at his damning praise. It just irks him to give credit where it's due.
"It is, after all, an easy task," Snape said, deflating her of any feeling of accomplishment. Her eyes burned indignantly, and he was gratified with her show of anger. "Ah, Miss Beecham. Is not anger one of the Seven Deadly Sins? 'The meek shall inherit the earth.'"
The truth stung—particularly since he used her faith to castigate her. She lowered her eyes and breathed deeply, seeking to calm herself. She couldn't bring herself, however, to apologize. He must owe apologies to everyone he knows!
With a wave of his hand, a book floated from his desk to Nadia, and she snatched it in unwarranted fear that it would fall.
"I expect a high level of accomplishment in all tasks assigned to you, and that includes legible handwriting." She opened her mouth to object, but snapped it closed at his harsh expression. "Muggle-borns often struggle with the quill. They also have no concept of wizard social behavior.
"Therefore, you will copy the entire contents of that book before you may undertake any paperwork on my behalf," he instructed. Folding his arms, he watched carefully as she schooled her features. "You will master the quill and learn something besides."
Unable to restrain her curiosity, Nadia looked down at the book's cover: Mrs. Wigworthy's Book of Manners. A steady heat flamed up her face. How dare he, the condescending—! But showing any anger would simply play into his conniving hands, she realized. Biting the inside of her lip, Nadia raised her head, smiled tightly and nodded once.
"I'll give you through the weekend. You'll present your finished work for examination," he warned darkly.
"Of course, sir." She bit her tongue to keep from blurting out anything further—how intolerably he behaved toward her and his students, and that he could use a good dose of humility.
He nodded. Snape bent forward, and his eyes suddenly seemed blacker. "Why have you been returning to your room at midnight, Miss Beecham? It was my understanding that while you do not have an official curfew, you are expected to be in your quarters by ten."
Initially surprised, she sighed. "Professor Lockhart sometimes drops by my room, as if it's not out of the way. His mind doesn't seem to be on … professionalism. So I've taken to working and reading in the staff room."
"And you don't care for the company of the famous author and legendary ladies' man?" Severus said, openly sneering.
"Oh, please," she said, rolling her eyes. Her face suddenly brightening with a new thought. "I understand you're going to give a dueling exhibition with him? May I come? I'd just love to see him get his comeuppance."
"My, my, Miss Beecham. You seem fairly confident of the outcome, considering that he is a holder of the Order of Merlin Third Class."
Nadia folded her arms. "The first day I was here 'officially,' he presented me with his Wanderings with Werewolves and Magical Me books, so I read them. What a fraud!"
Snape's lips curled with disdainful satisfaction and surveyed her with what could almost be admiration. "Can't even fool a Muggle."
A pile of ink-stained, crumpled parchments overflowed the wood rubbish bin next to the secretary desk, where Nadia bent forward in concentration, clutching a goose quill. McGonagall might be kind enough to magically clean up her assistant's ink blots, but Nadia didn't dare ask Snape to follow suit. Maybe the library has some quillmanship manuals. I'll ask Madame Pince tomorrow.She'd managed to reach page eight of the one hundred fifty-page wizarding etiquette book, but had gone through nearly two dozen pages of parchment in the hand-copying process. Both of her hands were stained with ink, and she'd smudged her nose from rubbing it in frustration.
Taking a drink of water—and blotching the goblet with ink—she focused on the next sentence.
Do not carry your wand horizontally to the side. To do so is an affectation, and it is impolite as an unaware passerby could be poked.
Nadia snorted at the memory of Lockhart carrying his wand just so, as if prancing down a couture runway. Dutifully, she copied the words, at greater speed than she was able an hour earlier. She finished with an accidental flourish, and pulled back in surprise.
"Not bad," she said softly.
Stretching, she walked through the bedroom to prepare a long, hot bath to relax painfully tight muscles.
Settling in the water, she reflected on her meeting with Snape, the cause of her tension. The session had gone surprisingly well, considering the Head of Slytherin's imperiousness and expertise in provocation. She would have congratulated herself on a case well presented if his response wasn't obviously prepared. Once again, he'd made his self-superiority abundantly clear, but she'd at least achieved her goal: A chance to do real office work for him.
Drying and dressing for bed, Nadia went to the freestanding low bookcase now in her bedroom. Having found it in the castle's massive storage, she used it to create a prayer corner near one of the bedroom windows. Newly dusted and polished, the case held a few volumes of religious nature, some small icons, and a tiny censer and packet of incense cones. Affixed to the stone wall above was a Christus Rex, a cross depicting Christ as a triumphant king with outstretched arms.
Kneeling, she went through a routine of prayers, including for family and friends she wasn't sure when she would see again. She asked for courage, patience in dealing with Snape, and a true ability to help the man. And she offered thanks for the kindnesses offered by other staff, particularly Dumbledore, McGonagall and Flitwick.
An hour after curfew, Minerva and Severus were summoned to a meeting in the Headmaster's Office, where Dumbledore distributed glasses of Ogden's. The trio quietly enjoyed the end-of-day amber liquid while Fawkes preened in a corner. After several minutes, the old wizard pulled out a set of spelled notes.
"You'll remember that a friend took Miss Beecham's place with the use of Polyjuice," he said, and his guests nodded. "At my request, she has submitted a written report. What Miss Beecham has told us about her life have been substantiated to my satisfaction."
Minerva gazed at Albus with interest, while Snape's lips twisted dubiously. Dumbledore's eyes remained fixed on the pages he held.
"I also asked Mrs. Chittleham to research possible magical connections. She examined family correspondence, pictures, genealogical information, and sought other sources to help determine whether the girl is Muggle or witch. Family letters evidenced some women on her maternal side had the gift of seeing, although it is not referred to as such.
"Severus, you shared information that you gathered through Legilmency, and we have what she's told us outright." The Headmaster took a pleasing sip of Firewhisky and carefully set the crystal glass onto its coaster. "Some of the things you saw involve her family. Friends' inquiries and comments to my friend—as Miss Beasley—made it clear that the family has a distant relationship, and that Miss Beasley might have been depressed."
Minerva made sounds of concern. Her young colleague swirled his glass casually, candlelight refracting shards of light through the cut glass.
"I'd like for you to continue keeping a close eye on her. Her present circumstances could deepen a depression."
"Assuming she doesn't wish, nor has she planned, to be here," Snape interjected quietly but with an edge.
Dumbledore ignored the younger man's sharp attitude. "If you see signs of depression, please let me know. It should be addressed."
Minerva and Severus both acknowledged the order.
Just then, a strong gust of wind blew leaves against the windows.
"Ah, autumn is truly upon us!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "I suppose your Quidditch teams are hard at work."
"Of course, Headmaster. Slytherin intends to reclaim its title," Severus said evenly.
Minerva downed the last of her Firewhisky. "Don't count on it, laddie."