Disclaimer: The inhabitants of Hogwarts are the property of JK Rowling.
Sorry, sorry, sorry. To anyone who was following this before, Iím really sorry. Back in September I knew exactly how this was going to go, then I went to Italy and when I got back couldnít remember how it was going to work. So, after a two-month break, back to the plot.
Games of Skill and Chance
Part 6 - Hungry Hippos!
His last class had left for the day and he was scrubbing away the splattered remnants of the third yearsí sleeping potions, conscious of the disastrous results if the crushed asphodel accidentally found its way into tomorrowís shrinking solutions. Normally he would clear up with a quick spell, but the work seemed a good way to burn off some excess energy in the hope of a good nightís sleep. A soft knock at his classroom door caught his attention and he called out a brusque "Come in," without stopping to consider who his visitor might be.
"Professor Snape," said a soft voice which did not belong in Hogwarts Ė not anymore anyway. He turned to see a young woman in light-coloured, casual Muggle clothes, too summery for the early November cold, her bushy brown hair obscuring most of her face.
"Miss Granger," he said in neutral greeting, through clenched teeth. Drat! he thought, where on earth did she spring from? "Whatever can I do for you?"
"Actually, I brought you something," she said, swinging a plain canvas draw-string bag off her shoulder, placing it on one of the studentsí desks and starting to rummage inside it. "Ah-ha, here it is."
She held out a small jar, which he took tentatively, peering at the viscous fluid it contained, tipping it sideways and watching the silvery substance ooze.
"Erumpment exploding fluid," he murmured. It was only available through illegal and highly expensive sources these days, partly as an attempt to curb hunting of the rare beasts, but mainly because it was bloody dangerous stuff. Bloody useful stuff too, of course. How on earth had a goody-two-shoes ex-prefect Gryffindor come by it? He didnít have to wait long for an answer, in fact the Granger girl was already rattling off the story.
"There was a mating fight right outside the village Ė which was completely amazing, incredibly noisy and nothing like Iíd imagined from books or Care of Magical Creatures lessons. Anyway one of them exploded there and then, so as soon as the other one had gone I grabbed a jar and scooped up all the available fluid. Thatís it Ė one hundred percent naturally and ethically obtained exploding fluid. I knew youíd have a better use for it than I would."
Finally she stopped to draw breath and Snape felt his mouth twitch into a half smile. Partly he recognised her natural tendency to jabber on if not interrupted, but he also guessed that she had been keying herself up to bring this liquid treasure to her least favourite teacher Ė always wanting to do the right thing. Still, she could have dropped it off with McGonagall, it did seem a little odd that she should take the trouble to visit him with it.
"Thank you, Miss Granger, it will be useful," he said as he hobbled over to his most heavily locked and warded ingredients cabinet and carefully placed the jar inside. The young woman closed up her bag and swung it back onto her shoulder, turning to leave.
"So what were you doing in Africa then?" he asked. What? screamed a part of his mind, why are you making idle chatter with this pesky know-it-all brat?
"Iíve been out there these past three months, working with some of the village wise-women and witch-doctors in the DRC," she explained. "I wanted to do the equivalent of a Muggle gap year before deciding what to do next, so I arranged this with the Ministry."
Snape racked his brain, trying to recall what he had read about the Democratic Republic of Congo during the period when he had been studying the Muggle press for clues about Death Eater activity that he hadnít heard about any other way. It was a war zone of some kind. Deep, desperate poverty and images of lost-eyed children, carrying guns taller than they were, sprang to mind.
"Iím surprised," he said, weighing his words carefully. "Iíd have thought youíd want to avoid wars for a while. Take a rest after everything that happened last year."
If she was absolutely gob-smacked by the fact that he was making polite and thoughtful conversation with her, she didnít show it.
"Itís hard work, but it helps somehow, " she said. As she spoke, she tossed her head and Snape caught a glimpse of the devastated flesh of her left cheek. He sincerely hoped that he managed to disguise the shudder that ran up his spine, suspecting that the girl would be sensitive about her battle-scarred appearance.
"Just going back to the Muggle world, where no-one really knows what happened, it would be unbearable," she went on. "And Iím not really certain where I fit into wizarding Britain any more. In Africa I know Iím making a difference. Still fighting for the light, just in a different way."
He nodded. He knew only too well how that felt. How sometimes the fight was the only thing that kept you going.
"So what are you doing back here then?" he asked.
"Just a flying Ė well, apparating Ė visit," she said. "Dropping this off, visiting my parents and the Weasleys, collecting a few things from Diagon Alley that I need out there."
He didnít recall inviting her to sit down, but the Granger girl appeared to have made herself comfortable on a tall stool, resting her elbows on the desk and her chin on her hands. He thought he understood now the reason for her visit. The girl was testing out her adulthood, holding her own in a grown up conversation with a teacher who had treated her as a precocious 11-year-old right up until the end of her seventh year. Only after she had proved herself in exams and battle -- on the very same day -- had he given her three thin words of praise: "Well done, Granger."
They chatted for a while longer as he quizzed her on the traditional African magical style, the non-Latinate magic command words used on the immense continent, the indigenous magical creatures and plants.
"Iíd better go," she said eventually. "Iím expected for dinner at The Burrow."
He walked her to the door.
"Peacetime suits you, sir," she said, frowning as though trying to put her finger on something. "You seem somehow moreÖ real." She grimaced Ė although whether it was at the inadequate phraseology or at the thought that she might have annoyed him with the comment, he was not quite certain.
"Humph," he said, closing the door behind her.
To be continued.
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