Title: Definition of Need
Warning(s):Non-magic AU, teacher/student, Chan (15 years old)
Prompt/Summary:Severus Snape lives a lonely life until he finds what it means to be needed.
A/N:Wonderfully beta’d by bk7brokemybrain Thanks so much, as always, you helped make this so much more.
Definition of Need
Severus closed the door on his last class of the day and sagged against it, massaging the back of his neck with one hand while flicking the door’s thumb lock with the other. Since no student ever sought him out for extra help, he felt not a twinge of guilt about locking his door during the after school Activity Period. Teenagers avoided him like he was the overbearing aunt with chin stubble.
Stepping away from the door, he wandered the room, picking up stray scraps of paper and pushing in chairs that were left haphazardly away from desks. When the student area of the room looked presentable enough to leave for the night janitors, he gathered the assignments from his rectangular in-tray and placed them neatly into a folder and then into his briefcase. Snapping the case closed he peered at the clock, disappointed that only five minutes had passed. His hard and fast rule was to wait a full ten minutes in case anyone knocked on his door for writing help. He wouldn’t want to turn away the next Hemingway or Bronte, after all. With a tired sigh, he lowered himself into his desk chair and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, it was time he could leave.
Severus stood and straightened to his full height. He’d make his escape with dignity or not at all. Unfortunately, when he opened the classroom door, someone was waiting on the other side, fist raised to knock.
“Severus, I’m quite worried about a certain student.” Al strode in, pushing his broom in front of him, cleaning cart dragging behind.
Severus sighed and returned to his chair. He liked Al, he really did. After all the man was the closest thing to a friend he had. But sometimes Severus tired of the old man’s interference. Turning his mind to Al’s statement, Severus tapped his lips with one finger, his brow creasing, wondering how a night janitor would see any student enough to formulate an opinion. “Pray tell, Al, what have you seen that concerns you?” And why would you bother me of all people with it?
Al shrugged and swept idly at the floor. “He seems too quiet, too alone."
“Many teenagers are loners, at least for a while.”
“Yes, that’s true enough, but this boy seems to have no friends. I think he’s sad and lonely.”
Finally, Severus asked the question he’d avoided moments ago. “So why are you telling me this, Al? There are other teachers better equipped to deal with students’ problems.”
The old man shook his head. “No. I don’t think so, Severus. Not in this case, anyway. The boy reminds me a bit of you, actually. That’s why I thought you might offer the best help.”
“What? Is he an ugly, unsociable,” Severus glanced toward the door and then lowered his voice, “bastard?”
Al chuckled. “No. But neither are you.” He propped the broom against his cart and sat heavily in one of the student chairs. “Maybe this is the one, Severus.”
Severus groaned. “Not again, Al. How many times have I asked you not to poke your nose into my business?”
“If you didn’t want my help, you wouldn’t have told me of your hopes, my boy.”
Severus snorted. “I have no hopes left.”
“I think you do, you just don’t want to admit it. You still hope to mentor some talented young writer. You still dream of pushing someone to heights you couldn’t reach. You want to be needed.” Al arched an eyebrow as if challenging Severus to argue.
“Those who can’t, teach, eh?” Severus mumbled. “But that dream died years ago, Albus, killed off by teenagers who tossed my offers of help back in my face. Murdered by watching my suggestions balled up and thrown in the trash. Literally.”
“I think this boy’s different.”
Severus shook his head. If he wanted to get home tonight, he’d have to play along. Al would tell him which no-talent brat he was worried about. Severus would inform Al that the child was, indeed, a no-talent brat and the conversation would be over. “Fine. We’ll do this your way. If the child has any writing talent I shall try to help him. But Lord knows, there are shockingly few in this school who would qualify. So, who is it?”
Al’s smile reached his eyes, which twinkled brightly. “A sophomore. I think you have in him in your creative writing class. Harry Potter.”
Well, damn. Leave it to old Al to hit on the one student who was talented enough for Severus to consider mentoring. The gangly boy always sat in the middle of his classroom, surrounded by other students, but never interacting with them. His oversized clothes, quiet demeanor, and ugly glasses only served to alienate him from his peers. Severus sighed and nodded. “Yes, well, Potter does show some skill in writing. I’ll see what I can do, but don’t look for miracles.”
Severus was agitated when he arrived home. Truthfully, he didn’t know if he had it in him to try again, to pin his hopes on another student. After all, it had been several years since he had last tried to find a protégé. He sat in his tiny library for a few minutes, his mind at war, until he finally made a decision. For good or bad, right or wrong, he would attempt to tutor the child. He had promised Al, after all. And maybe, maybe this student wouldn’t be embarrassed by the attentions of his odd teacher. Severus chuckled to himself. At least Potter seemed almost as odd as he was.
With the decision made, Severus felt better, calmer. He fished Harry Potter’s latest assignment out of his briefcase and sat at his desk, actually looking forward to grading a paper for the first time in ages. After a half hour, Severus had given the child hints on making his writing stronger as well as faint praise for the areas that were already up to snuff. He’d save any invitation for private tutelage until he saw how Potter reacted to this first overture.
That done, Severus set about to grade the other thirty or so assignments he had toted home with him. A little more than an hour later, he tucked them back into his briefcase and rewarded himself with a nice stiff drink.
Hearing voices carrying through the open window, Severus took his glass with him to the side porch and leaned against the railing. He counted the redheaded Weasley siblings tumbling around on the ground in the neighboring yard, five of the seven. He sought out, and found, fifteen-year-old Ronald. The boy who would be about the same age as Potter. Maybe if he weren’t home schooled, Ronald would have befriended Potter. For some reason, Severus imagined the two boys’ personalities would complement each other.
Missing from the Weasley fray were the two oldest, William, who at twenty-five, still lived at home, working as a locksmith, and Charles, who was in college and very rarely home. Severus felt a stab of annoyance that William wasn’t present. He would have liked to see him tonight. There were certain scratches that were itched more pleasantly by others than at one’s own hand.
The Weasley’s front door opened and the children’s father, Arthur, stepped out, smiling at his offspring as he stepped down the stairs and onto the lawn. Severus watched him skirt the writhing mass that was his wrestling children and head, as expected, toward a small garden that adjoined Severus’s lawn. Arthur glanced up when he reached the small plot of ground, spied Severus, and smiled wider.
“Severus, how are you tonight? I hope the kids aren’t bothering you.”
“No more than my students do during the day.”
Arthur laughed. “Ah, that bad then?”
Severus chuckled and turned his attention to the street, watching cars crawl by, suddenly satisfied to see a familiar sedan pull into the Weasley yard, William’s. He waited until William was out of the car and glanced toward him before he saluted him with his drink and walked back indoors. The man would understand the invitation and come around if he was also so inclined.
Fortuitous indeed that it turned out he was.
Severus was uncharacteristically apprehensive about returning Harry Potter’s assignment. The boy’s creative writing class met directly after lunch, just far enough into the day for hopes and fears to build.
He knew his anxiety was foolish, but he’d been here before, been in the position of hoping to help a gifted student, only to have his overtures rebuffed. This would be the last time, absolutely the last. It wasn’t as if he wanted his routine disturbed, anyway. Teaching, grading, reading, and the occasional evening tryst with William were enough to fill his time. So what if his hopes to see his name on the dedication page of a novel were never fulfilled? It wasn’t as if he had anyone to brag about the achievement to.
The students began filing into the room. The Dursley boy had, as usual, at least half his lunch on his face. Severus couldn’t fathom how the boy had grown so obese when that much food ended up on his skin and clothes. Severus watched, his eyes narrowing, as Dursley passed Potter, nearly knocking the smaller boy to the floor. Dursley’s friends laughed. Potter found his balance, stepped aside for some other students, and then passed Severus’s desk to take his seat.
Was this normal fare? Severus couldn’t be sure. He normally didn’t observe the students’ arrival in class. He postponed looking at them until the very moment when it was unavoidable.
Severus cleared his throat, still glaring at Dursley.
The boy looked back and seemed quite flustered at having been caught out at his bullying. From that Severus surmised it did indeed go on regularly. “Mr. Dursley, I will ask that you not attempt to harm other students in my classroom.”
Dursley laughed and bowed. “I’ll save it for the halls, then, sir. He pulled his desk chair out and sat, his wide posterior hanging inches over the chair on either side.
The Potter boy’s cheeks flamed red and he scrunched down in his seat.
Severus made a game of teasing himself. Instead of passing out the corrected stories at the beginning of class, as was his wont, he held off until it was almost time to dismiss the students. In this way he was allowed to hold irrational hope for just a little longer. Stupid, really.
After giving instructions for a homework assignment that was merely to rewrite their latest, mostly-failed, attempts at a short story, Severus walked through the room, handing out said stories. By design, Potter’s was the last paper in the stack. Severus strode to the boy’s desk, placing it down and giving it a sharp tap with his fingers.
He tried for a casually bored gait as he returned to his desk and then swung around once more to face the class. “As always, if anyone has questions on their returned assignment, you may see me after class or during Activity Period.” As he resumed his seat, he finally let his eyes fall on Potter. The boy was just setting his story down on his desk. His brow was furrowed, teeth worrying his bottom lip. As Severus watched, he picked the paper up again and scanned it, eyes moving down, pausing now and then.
The ringing bell startled Severus from his attentions. “Class dismissed.”
Potter waited until everyone in the rows behind him had passed by before he stood. Severus wondered if that too was normal, but again had no context with which to compare, as he was usually planning his next class before the present one exited. The boy peeked around behind him before he stood, and kept his head down as he passed Severus’s desk on his way out the door. But Severus did notice that the story he’d returned was clutched tightly in Potter’s hand.
When the next class filed in, Severus kept his head down, scanning his lesson notes.
The next day, Severus asked for the homework in Potter’s class to be handed in as the students walked through the door. He wanted to avoid the temptation of skimming Potter’s revised story immediately, so he tucked it into his briefcase with the rest for later perusal.
At home that evening, Severus graded every single other assignment before plucking up Potter’s. He closed his eyes for a moment, took a steadying breath, and berated himself for acting the fool over what would be another failed attempt at mentoring. He even argued with himself for a moment that the boy wasn’t that good, anyway, though he knew it to be a lie.
Finally, he looked at the paper. As was procedure, Potter had stapled the original story on top of the revised version. Severus was about to flip to the second page when he realized that his own broad red strokes were not the only ones decorating the margins. Under many of his suggestions, Potter had made his own comments in reply. Severus scanned the notations, noting that it was the style remarks, and not the cut and dried spelling and grammar corrections, that had been expounded upon.
The first one Severus read was in answer to: You are using too many adverbs. Try stronger verbs instead. Potter had written: So instead of walked quickly, I should use strode?
The rest of the notes were in the same vein, clarifying what Severus had written, or asking questions as to why a change would benefit the story. Severus smiled. So the boy was willing to learn.
When he finally got around to reading the revised story, Severus found Potter had taken his suggestions seriously and even made changes Severus hadn’t indicated, most of which were improvements. Again he made comments, and placed the paper in with the others.
Before he went to bed that night, Severus tucked a paperback thesaurus into his briefcase. It was an extra copy he never used. Potter would be better served by it than he.
Again, Severus watched as the sophomore class filed in after lunch. Potter caught his eye and blushed deeply, turning away and fumbling to his seat. Odd.
When Severus handed back the revised stories, Potter fairly snatched his out of Severus’s hands. Severus stood back for a moment, just out of the boy’s view, and watched. Potter scanned the paper for a few moments and then placed it carefully in a folder. Good. It was a promising start.
For the first time, Severus was almost glad Al was a nosy old man.
When the end of period bell sounded, Severus dismissed the class. As he had observed before, Potter let the other students file by before standing and walking the aisle. When Potter was a step or two away, Severus scooped up the thesaurus and held it out. “Mr. Potter. Do you own a thesaurus?”
He hadn’t expected the boy to look so crestfallen. Potter settled his gaze on the book, talking to that instead of to Severus. “No, sir. I don’t have one, but we learned how to use it in junior high.” His gaze flicked up to Severus’s face for a moment before dropping to the floor. He swallowed and said, “Is my writing that bad, sir? Because I thought maybe it was okay after the notes you made on my last paper.”
Ah, so that was the problem. “Mr. Potter, I would never give a writing aid to a student who I believed had no talent. That would be a waste. It is precisely because you do write well that I give you this book.”
A smile bloomed across Potter’s face. “Really? Because I’ve always loved writing and sometimes I think it’s the only thing I’m any good at.”
Severus stood, leaned over his desk, and pressed the book into Potter’s hands. “Really. Now get to your next class before you’re late.”
The boy clutched the book to his chest, fairly running out of the classroom.
Severus had to fight hard not to smile. A problem he had seldom had.