The incessant tap, tap, tap on his bedroom window roused Severus from his slumber. He reached up, his limbs still heavy with sleep, and pushed the fall of his hair back from his eyes. He could make out the shape of an owl through the thin curtains of his bedroom window, the sun barely up behind it. He cursed, wondering who could be writing to him at such a time in the morning and he considered ignoring the bird but it began to tap once more and he knew he would not be able to get back to sleep.
He threw off the covers and dragged on a heavy black dressing gown, the autumn chill permeating the aging stones of his home. He opened the curtains and threw up the sash of the window, recognising one of the school owls as it dropped its burden on the ledge before it flew away.
He immediately recognised the handwriting and felt a small knot form inexplicably in his stomach as he picked up the letter and closed the window once more. He looked over to the fireplace where the embers still smouldered from the night before and he was tempted to toss the letter into them and let them erase all evidence of its existence. Instead, he turned away from the fire, setting the letter down on his nightstand and leaving the room.
When he returned, bathed and fresh for the day, he set about dressing, still favouring black even when his solitude required little formality. It was only when the last button was fastened that he allowed his eyes to stray once more to the letter. He crossed the room, picking it up and heading to the door. He did not reach beyond the foot of the bed though, when he sat down heavily on the mattress, breaking the seal with one long finger and revealing the letter within.
The words were as he had expected the moment he had seen who the letter was from but where he had originally thought they would anger him, he instead felt a pang of regret, reading Hermione’s response twice before he sighed. Frustration, anger and annoyance warred with an odd sense of trepidation and a necessity to be better understood. A similar sense to that which had compelled him to write back in response to her first letters.
He got to his feet, heading to the stairs and his study below but he paused at the balustrade, wondering at the logic in writing to her when she had dismissed everything he had previously said to her but he carried on regardless, intent at least on having the last word in the matter.
He set the letter on his desk, a wave of his hand conjuring a cup of steaming tea as he drew parchment and a quill from their neatly assigned places. The tea had grown cold and the once empty paper bin full by the time he finally had a letter he deemed passable to send to his former student. He signed his name with a flourish before he picked up the letter to read it through once more.
Please rest assured, Madam, that this letter serves to offer no further advice as to how to run your classroom. You have made it quite clear that, despite your initial request, that such information is no longer welcome.
I will however remind you that it was you that made the request for my advice and I cannot believe that you laboured under any apprehension as to what my reply would be. You speak of masks and artifice and yes I shall admit that some of my behaviour during our acquaintance was out of necessity to my role as a spy but please do not fool yourself that the majority of my teaching practice would have been altered should I not have been so.
I stand by my assertions, Miss Granger, that you should leave your students in no doubt who is the ultimate power in your classroom. For you this is all the more pertinent as you are full young to be in such a role and some of your students were once your younger classmates. I know the burden of being a young professor as I was not much older than you are now when I took on the role and discipline was the only way I was able to maintain control.
Though I own it sounds a cruel practice to insight a measure of fear in your students, you are dealing with ingredients and potions that can be fatal if prepared or used improperly and therefore a fear both of the subject and the teacher breeds focus and care. Do you truly believe Neville Longbottom would have survived even his first term in my classroom had I turned a blind eye to every error he made? He would have been carried out of the classroom on a stretcher borne for St Mungo’s by Halloween had I not watched over him like a hawk. My teaching was not so poor for the young man, as I understand that he is now pursuing a career in Herbology with particular focus on improving fertilisers for some of our rarer plants, a job that involves potion making skills and one that I hear he now excels at. Where, Miss Granger, did I fail him in my teaching if he is now doing so well?
As for your comments on my character, I am indeed mean-spirited and make no illusions otherwise. I would have thought you, having learned the finer details of my life from Mr Potter, would at least allow that it has led to some of my demeanour being understandable if not palatable. I make no apologies for my character, Miss Granger, the same way you do not make apologies for the flaws in yours.
I wonder how you judge compassion when your judgement of competence is so skewed. Did I not give up my life to save your friend? Did I not protect him despite him representing much of what I rightfully despised? Would you judge me so harshly if I had not survived Voldemort’s attempt to end me? Somehow, I doubt it. You are quite the Gryffindor still and I have little doubt I would have been your hero had I shuffled conveniently off the mortal coil that day.
There is much more I would say to you but I fear all should fall upon deaf ears and I have no wish to take up anymore of your time. I trust that you will succeed in your role but I truly believe that you need to speak with teachers who are more experienced. If my advice is not acceptable then Horace Slughorn, though prone to favouritism, did manage the Potions classroom effectively for many years. Minerva and Pomona as well have teaching styles that inspire discipline but may be more suitable to your sensibilities.
I doubt that you will ever find yourself the most hated teacher in the school, even if you emulated me in the fullest; however, I feel an odd sense of pride in being given the title when we both suffered a year under the tenure of Dolores Umbridge. I must have been truly, truly despicable.
Though I doubt they will be accepted, I send my best wishes for your success at Hogwarts and trust that, in time, you may heed at least some of my words.