(Variation II on a Dance Theme)
by Cayce Morris
"Your question was: do I abhor the widespread use of music as background noise in our modern culture? And my answer, ladies and gentlemen, is that most assuredly I do not. For as long as music enhances our lives, heightens our senses, and helps us crystallize our thoughts and feelings, why should we be overly sensitive as to where and in what form it does so? Next question, please!"
(excerpted from a fourth-year student's Mag-i-Corder transcription of a lecture by Herr Wolfgang Lehrer, Visiting Professor of Music in the newly created Department of Muggle Integrative Studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 2008)
Track 1: Main theme, bass solo
Severus Snape sits at a table for two in the back corner of a London coffeehouse, by a window overlooking a dreary park that is, sadly, representative of the entire muggle neighbourhood surrounding it. Severus happens to live in this neighbourhood, and he doesn't care about the park, the view from this window, or the dreary state of either.
There is a bustling weekend crowd in the coffeehouse this cold February morning, and they are making a great deal of chattering racket. Adding to the noise is the music perpetually blaring from the wall-mounted speakers, which are turned up far too loud, as usual. The song playing at the moment has words sung in French, which means that Severus, with his schoolboy knowledge of the language, has at least a chance of understanding some of it. The songs in Portuguese give him considerably more trouble, though he has grown to like them anyway. He is not attempting to translate today, however. He is not particularly paying attention to this song or any other. His mind is on other things.
Though his thoughts are intensely occupied, perhaps even to the point of obsessiveness, Severus is certainly not anxious. He is quite sure that the fluttering in his stomach is simply from hunger, and the very slight trembling of his fingers only means he is in need of his morning caffeine. There is, after all, nothing to be anxious about.
He has just arrived at this coffeehouse that was once his regular morning haunt. He is alone, but this does not trouble him unduly. He reminds himself that there is nothing wrong with eating breakfast alone. Just weeks ago he did so nearly every day, in this very spot.
This is a perfectly ordinary morning, he tells himself for perhaps the fourth time in an attempt to settle his stomach and slow his racing pulse. It began in typical form when he rose from his bed at his usual early hour with no difficulty. He has required no morning alarm other than delicious anticipation for the last several weeks, and as he thinks of this the fluttering blessedly subsides for a moment, and he smiles, a private, satisfied smile.
He came here this morning on foot from his nearby flat, after performing his usual morning cleaning rituals. These consist of a hot shower, careful combing of his clean, wet hair, very thorough tooth brushing, and meticulous shaving. This morning he rubbed his chin with his fingers as he peered in the mirror, wondering if another shave would be necessary later in the day, and decided it would be wise to inspect himself in the afternoon just in case. He dressed in the dark grey trousers and white buttoned shirt that are his usual working clothes, but before leaving he also took from his closet the spotlessly clean and thoroughly pressed black clothing into which he will change this evening—a fine wool suit, a black shirt with a band collar, to be worn buttoned up of course, and elegant, polished black dress shoes. These are modern clothes, not the old-fashioned blacks he wore as a teacher. He hung the outfit on the door to his bedroom and put the shoes beside it, to wait until he is ready to change after dinner.
Upon arriving in the coffeehouse Severus immediately ordered, and is now attempting to eat—while reading his usual muggle newspaper—his usual breakfast of a prune Danish pastry and a very large, very hot, very black coffee. His stomach, which is not nervous, nevertheless refuses to cooperate and he is unable to eat more than a few bites. He gives up on food and concentrates on sipping his coffee, certain now that it must be caffeine that is making his fingers continue to tremble. He manages to finish the coffee and feels a little better, though still somewhat unsteady, which he decides is no doubt from simple fatigue. He has been sleeping less than usual, after all.
His stomach still queasy, Severus decides he is done with his breakfast. He stands up from the table and disposes of his rubbish, and then deviates from his routine by stepping to the counter one more time. The surprised young barista, a serious-looking girl to whom he has never spoken more once per morning, and never more than the six words necessary to place his usual order ("Prune Danish, extra-large coffee."—a pause—"Please."), says to him, "May I help you, sir?"
"These…things…contain music, do they not?" Severus replies, waving his hand at the display of flat, square packages on the counter.
"Ah, yes, sir, they do," says the now puzzled-looking girl. "They're, er, compact discs."
"Yes, of course," Severus says, nodding. "I wish to purchase one, then. Which contains music most representative of what plays incessantly here in this shop?"
"Well," she says thoughtfully, "you used to come here always about this time in the morning, didn't you? From six to eleven we've been playing these three"—and she indicates one side of the rack—"for months now. You didn't hear enough of them, I suppose, when you were in here every day?" The barista seems to try for a cheerful, salesman-like smile, but Severus thinks it looks a bit forced, and supposes she might have heard quite enough of them herself.
"As a matter of fact, I did," Severus replies drily, "but evidently not everyone feels the same way. I will take that one, then," he continues, pointing to the package with the most ridiculously cheerful cover art. He hands over the appropriate muggle bills and takes his small parcel from the barista. "And if I might ask, where would one go to purchase a device on which to play this…disc?"
The girl raises her eyebrows. "Where do you want to play it, and how much money do you want to spend?" she asked.
"I will spend as much as is required, of course," he answers quickly, then realizes that she surely meant no offense by the question, "and I would like to…that is, I would like for a friend to be able to play it…at home," Severus says, wondering how many other places one could possibly want to play such music.
"So, nothing portable, then? You don't…I mean, your friend won't want to carry it around?"
"Carry it around?" Potter is injury-prone enough as it is; Severus can't imagine him walking around listening to highly distracting music. "No, just at home, I believe."
"Then I'd best send you to…"and she gives him the name of a store he recognizes, one just a few blocks away. "They'll have some nice things to choose from, systems of different sizes. For wherever…your friend wants to put it." She smiles at him. "Is this for the young fellow you used to breakfast with sometimes? I know he likes the music we play quite a lot. He's always humming when he comes by in the morning these days."
Startled, Severus almost denies any connection reflexively, but decides there is really no longer any point. "In fact, it is for him. And yes, he is quiet enamored of it. For some reason." He gives a wry little shake of his head to indicate that he himself is in no way enamored, but the girl just laughs, a musical sound in itself.
"Well, tell him I hope he enjoys it."
"I will, or you may tell him yourself. I expect you will see him again in a day or so." He nods his head to her, almost a small formal bow. "Thank you for your assistance."
"No problem, sir. You have a nice day."
Such an inane sentiment, Severus thinks. But today, or at least by the end of this evening, he hopes for much more than that.
X X X X X
An hour later, Severus walks out of a store called "Woofer and Tweeter," wondering what in the world could have possessed someone to give a business establishment such a ridiculous name. He has a small but awkward cube-shaped package under his arm, in addition to the compact disc resting in his jacket pocket. His ears are ringing from the volume of the audio demonstration the salesman has given him. He can't imagine anyone actually using even half of the sound-making capacity of the sleek and highly non-magical-looking piece of equipment he has bought, but he supposes one never knew with young people these days.
That last thought echoes around in his head once or twice before he realizes he would be wise to banish it and attempt never to think such a thing again, never to imagine that young people were somehow different from everyone else, and therefore incomprehensible. He knows he'll only defeat himself with such an attitude. His nerve, though he is fairly sure it appears ironclad from the outside, is not an invincible thing, and there is no reason to work against himself from the inside.
He walks the few blocks back to his flat, thinking over the details of his plans for the evening and not much noticing anything else.
X X X X X
Back in his flat, Severus sets about gift-wrapping his purchases. He carefully unfolds two sheets of the newspaper he's brought home from breakfast and lays them on his kitchen table. He studies them for a moment, considering, and then with a word and a wave, transfigures them into bright red wrapping paper—but is startled to see pale pink hearts evenly spaced over the red background. Thinking that would definitely be too much, he gives another tiny wave of his wand and the hearts disappear. Satisfied, he wraps the packages neatly and ties them with red ribbon transfigured from a piece of kitchen string.
He steps back and looks at the packages, sitting next to each other on the table, and suddenly realizes he's forgotten to get a card to go with them. In spite of his lack of experience with such things, he's fairly certain tradition would encourage the giving of a card on such occasions as this. He frowns, but then feels himself overcome by common sense and decides there is no need to go all to mush over things. A card would simply be over the top. Too much sentiment. Not appropriate for the situation at all, really. And so he places the two bright red gifts on the small table next to his front door and walks toward his study to do his day's work, editing articles for the journal International Potions Monthly.
On the way to his study, he steps into his bedroom to look into the mirror, just for a moment. He rubs his chin and smoothes his hair, and takes a quick look at the clothing hanging from his door. Only when he is satisfied that everything is still in order is he able to get to work.
X X X X X
By seven o'clock, Severus has completed the work he has planned for the day. There is no end to the editing one might do to the pitiful manuscripts he generally receives, but he usually tries to stop short of completely rewriting them. Most of the time the thought and brewing achievements behind the articles are not interesting enough for him to have any desire to place his own recognizable writerly stamp on them, anyway. More often he shovels away the most pungent verbal manure, trims the remaining sentences with the equivalent of power shears, and leaves the authors' own style, such as it is, still visible. That way the writers of critical comment letters—and there are always plenty of those—can still take aim at the correct targets. Only the "Letters to the Editor" have Severus specifically in their sights, and he seldom has trouble dispatching those with a few scathing lines of rebuttal. He does rather like seeing those vitriolic exchanges in print, actually. It is a kind of substitute for the guilty pleasure he took in grading student papers for all those years, with red ink so scaldingly critical it nearly burned holes through the pages. One must take one's small satisfactions where one can, he tells himself. And really, his entire job, as editor, is perfectly suited to a reclusive, fastidious potions expert with a scholarly bent. He can work alone, from wherever he wants—though London had seemed a logical place to settle when he'd taken the job nearly three years ago—and is required to keep more company with books than with other wizards, which with one great, still surprising exception is exactly what he wants. He is ever grateful that he'd found this job so soon after the war.
Once his study is tidied for the evening, he goes to his small kitchen and prepares a light, cold supper. He doesn't want too much food in his stomach, later in the evening. There is no need to accentuate any last-minute attack of nerves. Not that he is expecting any, but still, one never knew.
He tries to eat his meal, but as he eats the fluttering in his stomach that has been toying with him all day suddenly becomes more acute. He grimaces and pushes his plate aside, breathes deeply and looks around for something with which to distract himself. When nothing appears, he takes another deep, if shaky, breath and goes to sit in the old, worn overstuffed chair in his sitting room. It is the one piece of furniture he has kept from his parents' house, and is a bedraggled-looking thing that is nevertheless the most comforting and comfortable place to relax, or read, or just think, that he has ever known. He sinks down into it, feeling the soft velvet upholstery, now shiny with age, and tries to calm himself. There is no reason to be tense about this evening, he thinks. No reason at all. The conversation he wishes to have with the boy is a perfectly natural extension of their contact over the last several months. It will not shock him, Severus is reasonably sure. At least, it will not shock him too much.
And furthermore, Severus thinks, he was invited to this ridiculous event, for Merlin's sake. He owes no explanations or excuses to anyone.
He sits very still in his chair for an uneasy half hour, breathing deeply and willing himself to relax.
X X X X X
At a quarter to eight, Severus decides it is time to dress for the evening. Ignoring the rest of his supper, he goes to his bedroom to put on the elegant black attire he set out this morning. He dons the clothing carefully, and then scrutinizes himself in his tall bedroom mirror to make sure everything is in order. His trouser creases are sharp, and the smooth planes of his shirtfront are unwrinkled. He is pleased. He is not a lovely man, he knows, but at least he is respectably dressed.
Finally the hour of eight arrives. Severus has chosen this as the best time to depart from his flat, after much careful thought. Too early and he would look appallingly eager, which will never do; too late, and his decision to attend might look like an afterthought, which it decidedly is not. And, who knew, a bit later in the evening, Potter might even have gotten tired and gone to bed. It seems unlikely, but Severus thinks he shouldn't assume anything.
He has not put actual words to the thought that by late in the evening, someone else might have stepped in before him and secured himself—perhaps even herself?—in the place Severus wishes to take. During the time they've spent together these past few weeks, the boy has seemed firmly uninterested in any such thing, but this is Harry Potter, after all. Anything might happen to him, and probably will. And he is such a young man. So very young, and so very beautiful. It will not do for Severus to be any later than he has planned.
With this not-quite-thought on his mind, he looks at the clock on his bureau and realizes that it is getting late, and he is not yet quite ready. He hurriedly finishes tidying up, dumping his abandoned supper dishes in the sink with uncharacteristic haste and rushing to the loo to make one last appraisal of his appearance. He rubs his chin again and is dismayed to feel more stubble than usual for this hour. Deciding speed is more important than gentlemanly technique at this point, he uses a quick depilation charm—of the type more often used by women, he knows—to take the rough edges off his face. He runs a comb through his hair, which fortunately still looks clean enough. He sighs. It is getting late. This will have to do.
He goes to the front closet and carefully takes from it a new and elegant winter cloak. It is black, of course, but has a narrow band of velvet trim around the edges that is designed to be spelled to whatever color the wearer wishes for a particular occasion. Severus has never worn the cloak before, so the trim is still black, but a quickly spoken spell turns it to a dark garnet-red, appropriate for this holiday, he thinks. He tosses the cloak around his shoulders and draws it close in front of him, and then apparates away, feeling glad he hasn't eaten anything more.
A moment later, cursing under his breath, he is back. He steps to the small table by the door and mutters a spell in an irritated voice, shrinking the two packages to sugar-cube size. He holds them in his palm for a moment, uneasy again about the fact that they are not accompanied by the traditional card. Then a better idea occurs to him, and he smiles. He drops the tiny packages in the pocket of his jacket, turns, and this time leaves the room on foot, through the door, on his way to make one last purchase before apparating away again.
X X X X X
Severus reappears on the grounds of Hogwarts with a characteristic crack of the air around him. He stands directly in front of the castle, glancing around and remembering somewhat painfully the short time he spent here just a few weeks ago, early on Christmas morning. The weather here is distinctly colder than it was in London, and the ground is covered by a thick layer of snow, but the sky is breathtakingly clear and full of stars. He gazes up at them in silence for a moment, hoping they are a good omen, and then chides himself for even thinking about omens. No omens, portents or prophecies should be necessary. He knows what he's doing.
As he stands there, a cold wind whips up around him and whirls a sprinkling of soft snow from the ground into his hair, onto his cloak, and over the single red rose he carries. The rose was purchased in a shop near his flat and has been carefully wrapped in shiny glassine paper. What with the blowing snow, it seems wise to get inside as quickly as possible, so he heads for the door. He knows there is a small possibility that wards against him will be in place here, but there was no discreet way to discover if this was true ahead of time, so he cautiously starts up the stairs toward the huge wooden door, trying not to hold his breath in anticipation of being bounced away or worse. Thankfully, nothing stops him as he approaches the door, and with a small sigh of relief, he pulls it open by the enormous iron handle—Merlin, has it gotten even heavier?—and enters.
Inside, his eyes scan the entryway quickly, but find it deserted. The reason is obvious. To one side of the entry, the double doors to the Great Hall are propped open, letting light and the sounds of very loud music and dozens of voices stream out. Clearly, he has arrived at the right place. He steps close to the doorway, keeping himself mostly hidden behind it, to peer around and assess the situation. The Great Hall is indeed full of people; surely nearly every student and staff member is in attendance at this Valentine's Ball, the first such major festive event held at Hogwarts since the war ended more than two years ago. Harry has told him that the school faculty are determined to brighten spirits and unify the still deeply-divided houses with this ridiculously sentimental gala, even going so far as to offer special prizes to "mixed-house" couples who enter some sort of dancing contest.
He gives a muted snort of laughter at the thought. Mixed-house couples, indeed. They have no idea. He shakes his head and looks more carefully around the room.
It is arranged more informally than on previous similar occasions. Instead of the usual long staff table at one end of the hall, staff are seated casually with students at round tables placed along the sides and in the corners of the huge room. The room's center has been transformed into a dance floor—the long dining tables having been removed—and a large mass of students crowds it now, bouncing rather gracelessly, Severus thinks, more or less in time to some very loud, raucous music coming from a band playing on a small bandstand set up in a far corner.
He spots Minerva McGonagall seated at one of the round tables at the other end of the room. And then he sees Harry. The young man is apparently coming from the dance floor, and is walking toward Minerva's table—arm in arm with Hermione Granger. The two of them look sweaty and happy, and are laughing at something apparently quite hilarious. Severus has just begun to feel his entire body seizing up in panic at the sight of them, so obviously together, when Minerva looks up and sees him. He can see her eyes widen and her mouth freeze open in a perfect 'o' of astonishment. Harry apparently sees her expression as well, and turns to see what she is looking at, and the shocked look on his face confirms for Severus everything he needs but does not want to know.
Severus' first mistake, which he sees clearly now, was in refusing the boy's initial invitation. And now he has made a second one, by coming here at all. He is too late to make amends. Perhaps he has been too late for a long time. The seat next to Harry, apparently, is taken.
Severus would have turned and bolted from the room, but now they have seen him and he knows he cannot. He has unwittingly forced Harry's hand, and it will all have to end badly and with unpleasant explanations and excuses, and if he leaves he will simply appear to be too cowardly to face them. Harry, Minerva and Hermione have begun walking toward him, and he sees no choice but to fully enter the room, making himself visible to all inside.
Once in the door he stops for a moment, trying to gather up all the dignity that remains to him before taking the short walk across the Hall—a walk that will lead him straight to the Savior of the Wizarding World, a man of half his age and twice his beauty. He wonders how he could ever have imagined this might turn out well.
Severus squares his shoulders and tamps down the fearsome sense of pride and privacy that screams at him from somewhere deep inside. He is here. He made the decision to come here tonight, and he will have to deal with its consequences. He shrugs the cloak off his shoulders and tosses it over one arm, behind the hand that holds the single rose, trying to make his motions look fluid and nonchalant. He stands up straight and shakes his head, tossing his hair back over his shoulders. Then he strides across the room, eyes straight ahead—on Harry.