This story was written for Toujours Padfoot's Gift-It Challenge, and is dedicated to the inimitable Roots in Water.
As always, that which you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling.
Severus Snape was in a foul mood as he made his way into his office on a Saturday morning in late May. In and of itself, that was nothing unusual. Spring weekends usually left the Potions Master feeling bitter and isolated. All over the grounds of Hogwarts, students were running to and fro, throwing quaffles around, lying in the grass and generally enjoying the warm sun. He found it all thoroughly depressing. Whenever he was forced to leave the dank comfort of the dungeons on a warm spring day, he was always in a rush to complete his tasks and return before the angry sun burned his pallid skin or his thick, black robes caused the sweat to trickle down his legs and mildew his socks. But this day was one that he particularly dreaded each year.
O.W.L.s were completed, and today the four Heads of House were required to sit with each fifth year student and discuss their career plans. Settling into the chair behind his desk, Severus began to review the list of appointments he’d scheduled. His mood soured further as he studied the names on the sheet of parchment. It was going to be a very long day.
Being the Head of Slytherin House, the conversations he faced were simply never going to be as constructive as the ones that his counterparts had with their young charges. McGonagall’s students all felt that they were destined to change the world. They aspired to become Aurors and barristers and professional Quidditch players. Perhaps minor deities in Potter’s case. The Ravenclaws leaned toward more cerebral professions: healers and Arithmancers and Unspeakables. Even the Hufflepuffs could carve out productive and meaningful if somewhat mundane livelihoods.
The Slytherins were a different lot altogether. Aspirations were a foreign concept to them. Before the healer even smacked them on the bum, everything they were taught to value in life was handed to them on a silver platter. The entire house was constructed on a self-perpetuating foundation of privilege, arrogance and a powerful aversion to any activity that bore a resemblance to honest work. On days like this one, Severus felt like snatching the Sorting Hat from Dumbledore’s shelf and laughing maniacally while he watched it burn.
He took a deep breath and tried to compose himself while he crossed his legs and smoothed the front of his robes. There were appearances to maintain, after all. It wouldn’t do to have any of his shamefully spoiled students sending owls home to mummy and daddy, telling them how Professor Snape said that their precious little pure blood snowflake would struggle to hold down a job as a practice dummy at the dueling range.
A knock at his office door signaled the arrival of his first appointment. Snape plastered a disinterested look on his face and opened the door with a flick of his wand.
Vincent Crabbe nervously sat his bag down on the floor and took the chair across from Snape. He pulled out a crinkled sheet of parchment and a tatty-looking quill and gazed expectantly over the desk.
“Alright, Professor, I’m ready.”
Snape inclined his head slightly.
“Ready for what, Mr. Crabbe?”
Crabbe looked at the quill and parchment on his knee awkwardly, apparently realizing that he had no ink.
“There’s gonna be a test on this, right? Dad told me that if I got one more bad mark on a test...”
Snape resisted the urge to sigh out loud.
“Mr. Crabbe, we are here to discuss your future career plans. There will be a test, but it is many years away and your marks can’t possibly end up worse than your father’s.”
Crabbe stared dumbly back. His expression slowly wandered between suspicion and relief. Snape finally rolled his eyes.
“Put your quill and parchment away, Mr. Crabbe. Now, perhaps you could tell me which of your school lessons interest you the most.”
Crabbe sat for a long moment, working the answer out in his head.
The stifling silence was only broken by the sound of a green liquid slowly dripping out of a condenser and into a large, glass beaker on the professor’s workbench.
“Mr. Crabbe, it is only by the grace of Mr. Goyle’s presence in your lessons that you have evaded the distinction of being the worst potions student I have ever taught. Are you certain there isn’t another subject that you would rather pursue a career in?”
Crabbe was beginning to sweat. His eyes darted frantically around the room, as though he was convinced that the answer was hiding somewhere among the glass jars and old books that lined the shelves.
Snape picked up his quill and made a notation beside Crabbe’s name. Hopeless. Then he set the quill down and intertwined his fingers before resting his chin on top of them.
“Why don’t we forget your lessons for a moment? Just name something that interests you. The first thing that comes to your mind.”
Crabbe closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, a peculiar longing was evident on his fat face.
Snape eased slightly farther back in his chair and fixed Crabbe with a curious look.
The covetous grin that crept across Crabbe’s lips made Severus’s skin crawl.
“Yeah, fire. I like watching things burn. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I just sit in front of the fireplace in the common room with a stack of parchment and play with the flames. It’s like having a pet.”
Snape picked up the quill again and scratched out his original comment. Next to it, he scribbled the word mental. Crabbe continued to talk with a dreamy look in his eyes.
“Do you remember your first baby magic? When I was four, I bewitched the fire in the living room and made it come to life. It attacked our owl, Dad’s favorite chair and my sister.”
Cold fingers of realization crept up Severus’s spine.
“Mr. Crabbe, you don’t have a sister.”
The smile quickly faded from Crabbe’s face.
“You’re not, uh, writing this down, are you, Professor?”
Snape twirled the quill between his fingers for a moment before gesturing toward the door.
“I believe we’re done here, Mr. Crabbe. I have merely noted your interest in pursuing a career in Astronomy... so long as you agree to never set foot in this office again.”
Pansy Parkinson stared intently at the leather-bound journal in her lap before making a couple of small adjustments with the neatly-trimmed point of her quill. She reclined in the chair just a bit, wrinkling her pug nose as she studied the end result. Severus felt as though their discussion had slipped her mind.
“Which one do you like better, Professor?”
She suddenly leaned forward and thrust the book in front of him. Severus eyed her curiously for a moment before lowering his eyes to his desk. On opposing sides of the binding were neat columns of looping, graceful, hand-written signatures. He stared at them for a long moment before shaking his head.
“There’s meant to be a difference?”
Pansy greeted him with a beaming, tolerant smile.
“Of course, Professor. The ones on the left read, ‘Mrs. Pansy M. Malfoy’, while the ones on the right read ‘Mrs. Pansy P. Malfoy’. ‘Marguerite’ is my middle name. It was my grandmother’s and I’m really quite fond of it, but it would be more traditional to set it aside and move my family surname forward. What do you think?”
Severus took another quick look at the journal before fixing her with a scowl. She looked stricken.
“You don’t like either one of them, do you? I should have known. Mother says you’re very traditional, after all. Here...”
Pansy seized the book and flipped to a different page. When she returned it to his desk, he was greeted by ‘Mrs. Draco L. Malfoy’, neatly repeated dozens of times.
“Miss Parkinson, is this some sort of joke?”
The confusion on Pansy’s face was gradually turning to panic. Severus calmly wrote the word stalker next to her name. She seized the book and began to flip frantically through it.
“You said we were going to discuss my future, right? I have a version where I spell out ‘Lucius’. Is that too much? Should I ask him to hyphenate? Please, Professor, don’t just stare at me like that, help me!”
Snape slammed the book shut on her fingers with an exasperated flick of his wand. She yelped and then stuck her fingers in her mouth, temporarily silencing her frightened prattling.
“Miss Parkinson, I am going to offer you a small piece of advice. Basing all of your future hopes and dreams on the fleeting affections of another person can be a tragic and costly mistake.”
Pansy was starting to look genuinely horrified. Tears welled in the corners of her dark eyes.
“You mean... you mean that I might end up alone, living at home with my parents and an ugly little dog?”
Severus stole a glance at the list of students that he still needed to meet with.
“Believe me, Miss Parkinson. Things could be much, much worse.”
“Mr. Goyle, have you given any thought to what you plan to do after you graduate from Hogwarts?”
Goyle’s thick brows lowered slightly, partially concealing the confused optimism in his beady eyes.
Snape forced his lips into a taut smile.
“Yes, let’s think optimistically for a moment.”
Goyle’s face screwed up as he sat up straighter in his chair. Severus desperately hoped that this was how he looked when he was thinking very hard as opposed to preparing to pass gas.
“Dunno. What’s Malfoy doing?”
Severus suppressed a strong urge to simply write “Astronomy” next to Goyle’s name and declare the session over.
“Mr. Goyle, I haven’t the faintest idea what Mr. Malfoy’s career plans are since I have yet to speak with him about them.”
Goyle perked up and eased toward the edge of his chair.
“I could go ask him.”
Snape furrowed his brow, then shook his head slowly. He tried to force an optimistic tone.
“Or, we could experiment with thinking for ourselves just this once. Now, let’s pretend for a moment that Mr. Malfoy no longer exists. What do you think you might want to do in that case?”
Goyle’s face fell. He looked lost.
“Does Crabbe still exist?”
Snape lowered his face into his free hand and rubbed his forehead.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Goyle looked wistful and gestured over his shoulder with his right hand.
"Well, if Malfoy was busy tonight, like with Pansy or something, Crabbe and I were gonna go down to the lake and throw rocks at the giant squid."
Snape peered through his fingers at the parchment on his desk and scratched the word Remora next to Goyle's name.
“One final question, Mr. Goyle, and then I believe we’re finished here. If you found yourself stranded on a desert island all by yourself, what would you do?”
Goyle pondered the question for a moment, then looked slightly ashamed.
“We went to the beach once when I was four. We had to leave because I kept eating the sand.”
Scratching the dry point of his quill against the parchment, Severus pretended to take a few additional notes.
“That will be all, Mr. Goyle. Kindly remind Mr. Malfoy of his appointment this afternoon.”
To say that Draco Malfoy looked unhappy was an understatement of epic proportions. He draped himself listlessly across the chair in front of Snape’s desk and stared at the shelf of glassware on the opposite wall.
“Let’s just get this over with.”
Severus fought to keep the smirk off of his face. There was something powerfully satisfying about seeing the son of the wealthy and influential Lucius Malfoy brought low before his eyes. It wasn’t a perfect substitute for the sight of old Lucius, dressed in a filthy, striped jumpsuit, huddled in a bare cell overlooking the churning North Sea, but it would do for the time being. Still, Dumbledore wanted Severus to do what he could to help the boy along.
“There, there, Mr. Malfoy. This is not the day to dwell on your family’s legal troubles, extensive though they may be. We’re here to discuss your future.”
Draco’s gaze fell to his shoes.
“I don’t have a future.”
Snape thought back to McGonagall’s lessons on mentoring young people. Dumbledore had insisted that he sit through them before he started teaching at the school. Perhaps he should have paid more attention and spent less time working out the ratios of Foxglove to Spleenwart in a potion for controlling foot odor.
“Of course you have a future, Mr. Malfoy. Perhaps your completely reasonable fear of the Dark Lord’s anger is making it difficult to think long-term.”
It sounded like something Minerva might say, assuming one of her students was on the shortlist of candidates to be cruciated into insanity at the next gathering of the Death Eaters. Surprisingly, Draco become very angry.
“I had a future, alright? I was going to be a Death Eater. My father and I were going to help him exterminate the mudbloods and take over the world. It was gonna be awesome. Now, my father’s in prison and I’m as good as dead.”
Snape frowned. The conversation wasn’t going at all the way that he had hoped. Perhaps a change of topic would help the boy open up.
“Draco, let’s forget about all of this unpleasant business at the Department of Mysteries for a moment. In fact, let’s pretend that you’re not the son of the most reviled Death Eater in all of Britain. If you could do anything you wanted for a career, what would it be?”
Draco stared back at him suspiciously. Snape did his best to force an engaging smile, which made his lips twitch uncontrollably.
“It can be anything I want?”
“Anything at all, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He brushed some non-existent dirt off of the sleeve of his school robes.
“Never mind. It’s stupid.”
Severus suppressed a sigh. Whatever was going through Draco’s head probably was stupid, considering his abbreviated life expectancy. But he planned to look Dumbledore in the face and honestly say that he had tried.
“Mr. Malfoy, I’m certain that the first wizard to mount a broom and attempt to fly was branded an idiot by all who knew him, yet it worked out in the end. Please, continue.”
Draco stared suspiciously at Snape, then sighed. He seemed to be struggling for the right words.
“You’re going to think I’m mental, but... You see, it’s... I’ve always wanted to style people’s hair.”
Snape’s mouth fell open. For a long moment, neither wizard said anything. Severus tried to find words, but his brain seemed to be filled with a soft, buzzing noise.
“Never mind. I knew you’d think it was stupid.”
Severus forced his jaw closed. Here he stood on the cusp of an opportunity to take the pain of Lucius Malfoy’s personal hell to a whole other level and the moment was slipping away. He had to think of something.
“Of course not, Mr. Malfoy. Think of this conversation as an opportunity to explore new and unusual ideas. There’s no judgment here. Please, go on.”
Draco’s suspicious glare gradually faded as he began to explain.
“It’s about my father, really. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by his hair. It’s really rather amazing, you know?”
Snape bit back half a dozen insults pertaining to Lucius’s masculinity or lack thereof.
“The man was certainly born with gifts that go beyond the giant, silver spoon in his mouth.”
Draco didn’t seem to notice Severus’s sour expression.
“Oh, it’s not just something he was born with. Father works quite hard at it. There are potions and spells. He claims to have invented some of them, himself.”
Severus’s fingers moved subconsciously to his own greasy, drooping locks. He picked up the quill lying in front of him.
“Really? And these potions, you’re familiar with them?”
The wistful look in Draco’s eyes deepened.
“Not all of them, of course. Father guards some of them jealously. But I’ve watched him browse the apothecary, when he thinks I’m not paying attention. I know he buys Chizpurfle fang and Starthistle, Honeywater and Mint, Silverweed and...”
“And what, Professor?”
Severus collected himself for a moment and scribbled the words snake food next to Draco’s name. The few remaining days before summer break suddenly seemed much shorter.
“Well, Mr. Malfoy, I must say that this conversation has been unexpectedly constructive. You know, I’m certain that I have whatever ingredients you might need in my personal stores. Why don’t you stop by later and we can attempt to perfect these potions of your father’s?”
Draco looked honestly appreciative. A lesser man than Severus might have felt pity.
“Thank you, Professor. The school year is nearly over, though. Maybe we could work on it when we return in the fall? I could do some research over the summer and...”
“Mr. Malfoy, the first of September is so far away. Let’s cross that bridge if we both arrive at it, shall we? Do you have any plans, say, after dinner this evening?”
Daphne Greengrass strolled into Snape’s office ten minutes late, with a small tawny owl perched on her shoulder, holding an ivory notecard in one hand and a smart-looking quill in the other. Severus started to berate her tardiness, but she lowered herself primly into the chair in front of his desk and began to write out a message without even looking up.
“Have I mistakenly left on the invisibility cloak that I don’t own?”
Daphne waved one of her slender hands in his direction without looking up. He watched as she finished her sentence and then signed her name with several graceful loops. At least she signed her own last name and not Draco Malfoy’s. Then she folded the card and handed it to the small owl.
“Take this to Flora, darling.”
Daphne blew a kiss at the owl as it flew away, then turned back toward the desk.
“She’s going to be so thrilled. I managed to order this darling new outfit she’s been wanting directly from France. I cut Twilfitt and Tatting's right out of the middle and saved her a few sickles. Hestia... well, she might not be quite so happy.”
Snape tapped the point of his quill loudly against the desk in front of him.
“Miss Greengrass, if it isn’t too much of an imposition on your busy social life, could we please discuss the matter at hand?”
Daphne beamed at him.
“Oh, yes. My future plans. This won’t take long, Professor. I have it all figured out.”
Severus raised his eyebrows in response. Daphne crossed her arms over her chest and nodded smartly toward him.
“Yes, Professor, shopping. Isn’t it brilliant?”
Snape shook his head slowly.
“Miss Greengrass, a career is generally based upon an activity that adds to your vault, not one that empties it.”
Daphne tilted her head to the side and gestured with her pointer finger.
“Generally, yes, that’s correct. But I’ve found a way around that problem. I won’t just be shopping for myself. I’ll be shopping for other people, as well!”
Severus slowly processed what she was telling him.
“So other people would pay you to do their shopping?”
Daphne was practically beaming at him.
“Yes! Everyone says that I’m brilliant at it. Pansy has already decided that I’ll be doing all of her shopping after she marries Draco.”
Severus couldn’t help himself. As much as he wanted to find the subtle flaw that would allow him to tear her plan into tiny pieces, he merely nodded slowly.
“Miss Greengrass, against all odds, you have just become the first of your housemates to choose a vocation that might actually spare you the ignominy of living in a cardboard box with the Undetectable Extension Charm placed on it.”
The sparkle abruptly disappeared from Daphne’s eyes and her face fell into a look of concern.
“Vocation? You mean like working?”
The soft bubbling of a cauldron filled the awkward silence.
“Is that a problem?”
Daphne looked stricken.
“Of course it’s a problem! Working? Father would be mortified!”
Severus raised his palms, trying to calm the increasingly hysterical girl in front of him.
“Miss Greengrass, perhaps it would help to think of Miss Parkinson as your client, not your employer?”
Anger flashed in Daphne’s eyes.
“You’re right, Professor! This is all Pansy’s fault! She said that I would just be shopping, not working! She tricked me!”
In one smooth motion, Daphne rose from her seat, drew her wand and stormed out the door.
“I’m going to hex that ugly little bitch into next year!”
Severus watched her go and sighed. Next to her name, he scribbled the words my bad. Still, it was as close as he’d come to success. Perhaps the day would end on a high note.
Blaise Zabini lowered himself into the chair in front of the desk. As Snape scribbled his name onto the sheet of parchment in front of him, Zabini studied his own reflection in a large jar of frog entrails. He skimmed the surface of his perfectly groomed hair with the palms of his hands before bringing them together in front of his nose and mouth to quickly sample the smell of his breath. Satisfied, he stared across the desk and gave Snape a winning if fake smile.
“So, Mr. Zabini, in what discipline would you say that your interests lie?”
Snape’s black eyes narrowed and his forehead creased in confusion.
“You’re thinking of breeding dogs?”
“No, bitches. You know, slags. Birds. Scarlet women.”
Severus shook his head in disbelief.
“Mr. Zabini, what you’re describing is a vice, not a career.”
Blaise leaned back in the chair and coolly studied the fingernails of his left hand.
“You can make a career out of bitches. As long as you have enough game.”
Snape gently lowered his forehead into his left hand. He spoke slowly, straining to maintain his self-control.
“How, pray tell, do you plan to feed yourself by carousing with promiscuous women?”
“I’m still working out the money part. But my mother manages somehow. It can’t be that hard.”
Snape raised his eyes above his palm, stretching the sallow skin of his face with his fingers.
“Mr. Zabini, your mother convinces pathetic elderly wizards to marry her and then murders them for their money.”
“Until somebody can prove it, I’d say that’s working out alright for her.”
Snape picked up the quill in front of him and scratched a quick note next to Zabini’s name. Human parasite.
“So your career plan involves deceiving witches who are older and wealthier than yourself and then robbing them?”
Zabini looked thoughtful for a second.
“Normally I don’t go for the high-milage birds, but I could make a few exceptions. You know what they say, if the broom’s been around the pitch a few times, at least you know it flies.”
Snape dropped the quill onto his desk, leaving a small splatter of ink near its tip.
“Well, Mr. Zabini, this has been most informative. Before our chat, I believed you to be an arrogant, spoiled, empty-headed little rich child without a thing to offer the world. Now I must amend that assessment to include the words ‘amoral swine’.”
Blaise turned his head dismissively.
“Hey now, Professor S! Just because you haven’t dipped your wand in the cauldron since Dumbledore had a few brown hairs doesn’t give you the right to judge. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”
Severus rose to his feet and stormed to his office door with his black robes billowing behind him. He tore it open and spun to face the startled young man sitting in front of his desk.
“I judge this conversation to be at its end. Out of my office, NOW!”
Severus stood in his customary spot by the fireplace in Dumbledore’s spacious office, sulking as the other Heads of House summarized the day’s conversations with their fifth year students. He was slightly pleased to see that he wasn’t the only one who had found the conversations challenging. This class had seen a great deal in their five years at Hogwarts -- mostly due to Potter and the trouble that he seemed to cause everywhere he went -- and many of the students were confused about their futures. McGonagall was currently lamenting the choices her young charges were making as she leafed through the sheets of parchment in front of her. It made Severus want to vomit.
“I’ve never seen a group of Fifth Years struggle so to find their direction. Potter and Weasley now want to be Aurors, even though neither has the marks for it. Miss Brown wants to take up writing trashy romance novels. Mr. Finnegan expressed nothing more than a desire to ‘blow things up’, and Miss Granger seems determined to find her way into a dead-end Ministry career far beneath her talents.”
“At least she has talents.”
Severus’s mumbled complaint drew a brief stare from Dumbledore before he turned back to the Gryffindor Head.
“Now, now, Minerva. I think we owe it to ourselves to consider the things these children have been through in their time here. The world outside is not as simple as it was when you or I were students.”
McGonagall sighed and removed her spectacles.
“Of course you’re right, Albus. I don’t mean to be complaining. Things could obviously be worse.”
A mischievous smile played across her weathered face.
“I could be the Head of Slytherin.”
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. It was inspired by Roots in Water's awesome story, Wilted Flower (M). If you haven't already, please check it out! If you have any thoughts or suggestions, you know where to put them.
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