Chapter Two: A Yuletide Break
The Yuletide break in the academic term found Severus Snape in the Hogwarts kitchen collecting ingredients to prepare himself a solitary Christmas meal. He refused to dine with those few professors and students who had not joined their families for the holiday.
Of course, some of them have no family with whom to celebrate, Snape thought, ignoring the offended house elves who had offered to prepare something for the wizard. But, as none of them are Slytherin, I will not be joining the "festivities" for the endless discussion about where Potter has taken herself off to. Inconsiderate brat!
The Potions master was so irritated by the deluge of speculative articles on the subject that he had canceled his subscription to the Daily Prophet. He did not, as many seemed to, believe that some nefarious fate had befallen the much-lauded witch.
Clearly, the woman has amply demonstrated her ability to look after herself.
The former Death Eater cum spy cum private citizen had not forgiven the reckless, irresponsible, infuriating witch for negating his years of sacrifice and service to the Order of the Phoenix's cause. There were no statues of him. No special recognition had been paid to his efforts. No meaningful gratitude had been expressed for what he had done before, during, and after the war. Albus' profuse thanks meant nothing to Severus; they rang especially hollow in his ears during the headmaster's announcement of Draco Malfoy as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
"That position should have been mine!" he spat, startling the house elves.
One of the creatures appeared at his elbow, levitating itself next to the professor's position by the cutting board.
"Dobby knows that Professor Snape was very brave during the war. Harry Potter says so!"
"What?" snarled the wizard, ungracious in the face of this unexpected and extraordinary scrap of praise.
"Harry Potter is always saying to Dobby what a great man Professor Snape is, so Dobby is knowing that it is true," the house elf said, his words causing a murmur of agreement among the other house elves.
It was too much to be borne that his acclaim should be spread among the servants of Hogwarts, and at Potter's instigation.
"Damn and blast that woman!" the Potions master yelled, forgetting his meal preparations as he stormed out of the kitchen.
It was only after he had returned to the cool comfort of his dungeons and was savoring the burn of his customary comfort that the wizard realized the full implications of Dobby's words.
The brat has discussed me with a house elf, a house elf who might know something about her disappearance.
Slamming down his tumbler of Scotch, Snape returned to the kitchen to seek Dobby out.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"Who is Professor Snape meaning?"
"Potter. Where is she?"
The house elf blinked, large, innocent-looking eyes at the wizard. "Dobby is not knowing that, Professor Snape."
"Rubbish! You just said—"
"—I is only knowing," the elf interrupted, his ears twitching, "that Harry Potter respects Professor Snape."
Ah, thought Severus. Perhaps I mistook the creature's fractured use of the English language for a clue.
But the man's observation of the elf's body language would not permit him to accept this hypothesis.
"When was the last time you spoke with Potter? What, exactly, did she say to you at that time?"
The Potions Master was sure that he was equal to the task of catching a house elf in an attempted evasion. If his career as a spy hadn't honed his abilities in that direction, his time as an educator certainly had.
"Dobby is not understanding why Professor Snape is wanting to know about Harry Potter."
"My reasons are my own concern, and I'll thank you not to persist in this imbecilic attempt to misdirect me. Tell me what Harry Potter said about me the last time you spoke with her."
"The last time Dobby is speaking to Harry Potter, Harry Potter is saying nothing about Professor Snape."
Forcing himself not to throttle the house elf, Severus snapped, "The last time you spoke to Harry Potter about Pro—about me—what did she say?"
It was not unlike having to formulate precise questions for a subject under the effects of Veritaserum, interrogating a house elf.
Dobby sighed as if realizing he could not ignore such a direct request. "Harry Potter is saying many things, Professor Snape. Harry Potter is saying that Professor Snape is a great wizard doing brave things in the war, and that Professor Snape is deserving to be respected—not gossiped about by Dobby and Dobby's elves."
"Dobby's elves"? Severus asked himself. Interesting. Apparently, these creatures have developed a hierarchical power structure of sorts.
The wizard reflexively filed this information away in his mind, for one never knew when such information might prove to be useful.
"And precisely when was it that . . . Mrs. Zabini found the time to defend my honor?"
The house elf's expression changed from one of bland compliance to that of mutinous distress. "The great Professor Snape is surely knowing that the Blaise is not Harry Potter's husband any longer!"
Realizing his tactical error, the wizard replied at once, "Of course. Forgive my lack of . . . exactness."
But Dobby remained silent.
Unwilling to lose any further intelligence that the elf might impart, Severus said, "Mr. Zabini's behavior toward Miss Potter has been abominable, I admit." They should have never married in the first place—it was a most unsuitable match.
His words had a mollifying effect on Dobby. "Yes, yes! The Blaise is not a nice wizard!"
Severus forbore commentary of any kind, remembering the genuine shock he had felt when his two students had revealed their unlikely alliance over four years previously. He had not forgiven Potter for that revelation, either. Traitorously, he admitted that the girl's discretion was impressive, though he would never have scrupled to give voice to such a thought.
The continued prattling of the house elf broke the man's reverie.
"—and Dobby is knowing how much Harry Potter is loving the Blaise. She is crying when she is telling Professor Dumbledore about the . . . divorce," Dobby said, lowering his voice as he spoke the last word as if it were some sort of disease.
"When was this?" the wizard demanded.
Albus had seemed as surprised as anyone to discover that Harry and Blaise had married in secret.
But then, he's had more practice in the art of deception than any of his spies.
"On Harry Potter's last visit to Hogwarts, Professor Snape, before school is starting again."
That would have been just before she disappeared. "Thank you, Dobby," the wizard said, making a concerted effort to be gracious to the house elf so that he might cultivate the being as a continued source of information.
He cursed himself for having heretofore overlooked such a ready resource.
As the Potions master left the kitchen, Dobby rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. Professor Snape was an unlikely friend for Harry Potter, but the house elf knew that if anyone could find her, it was the surly wizard who had just left without saying goodbye.
"You is interfering, Dobby," Winky chastised him from her position by the hearth. "You is not a proper house elf!"
"Dobby is a free house elf, Winky, and a proper friend to Harry Potter. And Harry Potter is needing to come home."
The elf had loved and taken care of Harry Potter for years. He knew all of her friends. He knew that Professor Snape cared for Harry Potter, too.
For Professor Snape is crying, too, after Harry Potter is saying she is married to the Blaise.
Seeing the professor cry over concern for Harry Potter had proved to Dobby that the man was a proper wizard.