Sticks and Stones
by Phantom (phantom1313 at tfrid dot com)
The entire student body of Hogwarts was assembled in the great hall, causing their usual annoying racket. The Potions Master paused inside the entrance, wincing and rubbing his temples. Great. Just what he needed. He swept past the inanely jabbering students to take his place at the head table, favoring a few of the louder ones with a cold, icy glare. He allowed himself a brief flash of savage triumph as they quailed before him. The tight-lipped Professor McGonagall silently shifted to the left with a curt nod as he approached, giving him room to slide in. Not that he really needed it -- he had always been on the thin side, and these past few months had caused him to become scarcely more than a rail. He had never been exactly happy with his looks, but now he looked positively ghastly. He had fine, prominent features that usually bore an unhealthy white pallor, but his eyes had acquired a sunken look, and his cheeks had become pinched and hollow, casting his admittedly large nose into even stronger relief. In short, he looked as bad as he felt, and that was saying a lot.
Author's note: This story takes place shortly before the end of Harry's Fifth Year. This story is rated PG-13 for mild swearing and mild violence. . Spoilers for Sorcerer's Stone through Goblet of Fire.
On saura jamais ce qu'on a vraiment dans nos ventres
Caché derrière nos apparances
L'âme d'un brave ou d'un complice ou d'un bourreau?
Ou le pire ou le plus beau?
Serions-nous de ceux qui résistent ou bien les moutons d'un troupeau,
S'il fallait plus que des mots?
-- Né en 17 a Leidenstadt -- Freddericks, Goldman, Jones
//No one ever knows what is in our guts
Hidden behind our appearances
The soul of someone brave, of an accomplice or an executioner,
Or the worst or the most beautiful?
Will we be those who resist or just sheep in the flock,
If more than words were needed?//
Snape looked down at his plate with a heavy sigh. Not that there was anything wrong with the food, of course. The Hogwarts house-elves always managed to outdo themselves with scrumptious meals. He simply was not hungry. A quick glance across the head table told him that he was not the only one. While Hagrid and Dumbledore sat merrily devouring their food, the other professors were eating sparingly. Some of them winced when an especially loud laugh broke out from a student table. He turned his patented glare on them, but they utterly failed to notice him boring holes in the back of their skulls. Useless, each and every one of them. If they could not sense that danger was near, how would they ever survive the rise of the Dark Lord?
He dropped his fork on the plate with a clatter at that thought, causing a few of the professors to glance at him questioningly. He stubbornly avoided their gaze, staring fixedly at his plate until they turned away. No need to turn his malice on them -- they had enough worries at the moment. Final exams were approaching, and while the students had the luxury of cavorting about and shrieking at the top of their lungs (but not so loudly when he was around, lest their houses lose more precious points towards the House Cup), the professors were not so fortunate. There was the usual pre-exam tension around the staffroom as each teacher struggled to put together a formidable and challenging end-of-the-year culmination of all the knowledge that had been crammed into their students' heads. Snape knew without a doubt that that knowledge had leaked out of the ears of his Potions pupils the moment he had poured it in. The majority of his pupils were hopeless gits. There were only a handful that actually made teaching worthwhile. Draco Malfoy was one of them. He was attentive and bright, always impressing Snape with his grasp of complex mixtures. It was nice to have a sharp Slytherin around to keep those God-forsaken goody-goody Gryffindors on their toes. Then again, he had to keep a sharp eye on Malfoy. He knew all about his father's activities, and from everything he'd seen so far, Draco was a chip off the old block.
Snape took a small morsel of food and forced himself to swallow it. His stomach cramped painfully in complaint, but he managed to take a few more mouthfuls before it gave serious signs of rebellion. He then rested the fork against the plate and sat back slightly, giving his digestive system time to adjust before attempting to repeat the procedure. He could feel McGonagall's eyes upon him and resolutely avoided her gaze. It was none of her business how much he ate.
Are you feeling all right?
Snape instinctively scowled at the inquiry. Fine, he spat, shooting her sharp look of warning. She nodded briefly and returned to picking at her own meal. The sallow-skinned man rested his head against the chair and closed his eyes briefly. At least she had stopped bothering him. Unlike most of the other people in the school, she could take a hint. Severus Snape had a few unwritten yet very rigid rules that his coworkers had learned to accept very quickly. First off, no inquiries of a personal nature. Secondly, no remarks on his appearance, especially his hair, greasy though it may be. And lastly, under no circumstances, must he be touched. Hagrid, a rather touchy-feeling man by nature, had unfortunately had to learn this lesson the hard way.
He felt another pair of eyes sizing him up as well, as he scowled at the plate before him. He wondered if he could get away with a spell to clear the plate of its contents. He was sick of the stares, the murmurings. This time Dumbledore was the one eyeing him. 'Dammit, old man, can't you just leave me alone?' he seethed inwardly. 'You have no right to pity me! After all, it was *you* who put me in this impossible situation in the first place!' He angrily speared another chunk of food and chewed it thoroughly, the anger distracting him from his nervous stomach, wondering idly if he could arrange to take his meals in his private chambers. He hated feeling like an insect primed for dissection. All those eyes on him. Knowing. Judging. Some accusing, some pitying. It was the pity, above all else, that he abhorred. He was doing what he did of his own volition. Yes, he knew he was putting himself in grave peril. That was nothing new. But he did not go into this blindly. He knew the risks far better than anyone else, and he had survived this long. He was merely making the best of a bad decision he had made in the past, and would spend the rest of his life atoning for.
A fierce burning on his inner forearm finally permeated his distracted mind. He froze, every muscle paralyzed, unable to accept what was happening. What it signified. No. Dear Lord, no! It was as if the crazy, zigzagging thoughts in his mind had brought the Dark Mark to life. 'Please, not yet!' he begged internally. 'I need more time!' It was only half a lie. Part of him had prepared for occurrences such as this since his assumption of his post of Potions Master at Hogwarts. The other part of him knew that he would never be ready, no matter how many times he was Summoned. The pain then overcame his shock and he curled forward, hissing sharply, clutching his arm with his other hand. His eyes squeezed tightly shut, blocking everything else out but the agony radiating outward from his branded arm. 'Control it!' he berated himself. 'You've felt pain on many different levels. This should be nothing!' But it was what the pain symbolized than the sensation itself that so upset him. Voldemort was calling him. He had no choice but to respond.
The diminutive Professor Flitwick approached and placed a hand on the shivering man's shoulder in a show of concern. It was exactly the wrong thing to do. Snape immediately jerked away from the gentle touch, jumping to his feet, upsetting his chair. It fell to the floor with a loud clatter. 'Smooth move, Severus,' a detached part of himself observed dryly. If everyone hadn't been looking at him before, they certainly were now. This time his eyes actively sought Dumbledore's, scarcely realizing that he was massaging the searing mark on his forearm, thankfully concealed under his robes. The aged Headmaster gave him one sage nod of understanding and permission. It was all he needed. Pivoting neatly, he swept majestically from the hall, his head held high, mouth frozen into a foreboding scowl to anyone who dared look his way.
Once outside the room, however, he allowed his expression to change into a grimace. His feet wanted nothing more than to take him back to his chambers, where he could safely curl up in bed with a good book and the comforting thought that Lord Voldemort was far away from this haven. But if he had learned anything at all in his professed service to the dark wizard, it was to never underestimate Voldemort. He had found his way into Hogwarts before, and he could undoubtedly do so again. This was why Snape could not afford to relax his guard. He had to keep tabs on the one most commonly referred to as You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named. It simply would not do to ignore the summons. 'Is this it, then?' Severus wondered, as he did each and every time he was called to his lord's side. 'Is this the time he discovers my deception? Is this the time I die?'
His musings were cut short rather abruptly as he collided with something solid and unyielding. A quick glance on the floor offered an explanation. The old, familiar scowl reformed as he beheld the figure sprawled on the floor, glasses askew, unruly dark hair cascading everywhere. Get up, Potter, he spat. Get out of my way. I'm already late.
He followed the young man's shocked gaze down to his own arm, where the sleeve of his robe had slid aside to reveal the Dark Mark. It had formed into an ugly black splotch, the way it always did when the evil Lord summoned his followers. Curse him, he knew! Potter *knew* what that sign meant for him! He hastily shoved the sleeve down, clamping his hand over the throbbing mark as another bolt of pain shot through the appendage. He bit his lip, tasting blood, and yet he refused to cry out. Never would he show weakness before this whelp, who was so like his father it made Snape want to smack him in retribution for all the harsh things James Potter had said and done. Never would he yield! Not to Voldemort, not to Potter, not to anyone!
Don't look at me like that! Five points from Gryffindor, he snapped. And still Harry did not look away. His horrified gaze slid from his branded arm to Snape's face. It took everything the professor had not to shrink away. There was pity on Potter's face, to be sure, but there was more as well -- understanding, and sympathy?! It was too much! Don't look at me! he gasped, tearing away from the searing stare and stumbling towards the nearest exit. Those eyes followed him mercilessly until he had finally darted out of sight. He ran as fast as he could toward the broom shed -- he'd need a broom to fly to the edge of the school grounds. Once beyond there he could safely Apparate to his master.
He shuddered, his stomach lurching at that word. How had he allowed anyone, especially someone as revolting as Voldemort, to hold dominion over him? The mark still throbbed, but he could not bear to look at it any more. Potter's eyes upon him had made him feel ashamed, dirty and low. Why shouldn't the boy think that way? It was, after all, what everybody said about him when his back was turned, and had been that way ever since he had begun his own schooling at Hogwarts. The only difference was now everyone had a tangible reason to fear and loathe him. A Death Eater
. '*Former* Death Eater,' he insisted. Now a Death Eater in name only.
The words echoed in his head as he kicked off, sending the rather battered Shooting Star broom into the air. He clutched it, leaning forward a bit more than was necessary. He had always hated flying! He wished with a sudden pang that he had had the chance to summon a coach, but they weren't nearly as fast as a broom, and speed was of the essence. Still, he was a rather poor flyer and could certainly never pull off any of the amazing stunts that the Potter brat had managed to make look easy, just like his father before him
. He wrenched his thoughts violently away from that subject. He needed his mind to be clear and sharp for the coming confrontation, his thoughts quick and agile, always one step ahead. It was the only way to keep Voldemort from guessing his true intentions, always maintaining a double feint.
Try as he might, he could not shut out the voices from his head. They echoed within the confines of his skull, building into an insistent crescendo: That Snape Boy! I always knew he was up to no good. Didn't I tell you it's always the Slytherins that go bad? Knew from the moment I saw his greasy hair and bony face that he wasn't someone to associate with. Always talking about him, whether they realized he was there or not. It was a fact of life, something he had come to accept as inevitable as the sun rising every morning. Very well then. Let them talk. But if they could be harsh and petty, so could he. He could cut someone off at the knees with the best of them. He had an endless store of hexes and razor-sharp barbs that had kept him well-defended through his school years and beyond. But somehow, they now seemed empty. He was an adult now, a professor, no less! Shouldn't he have been able to leave this behind him somehow? He laughed aloud, but it was a bitter, short sound. There was no escaping who he was. As long as he was Severus Snape, he would be mocked and ridiculed. The only answer was to strike first, strike fast, strike hard. To not give them a chance to hurt him first. His face sometimes felt as if it had frozen into a stiff, cold mask. All the better, for what lay ahead.
* * * * *
He returned nearly two full days later, feeling an overpowering wave of relief as he stepped foot inside the Hogwarts castle. Amazing. He had survived once more. Then again
maybe it was an ominous sign. Lord Voldemort had called him to his side merely to brew a few simple potions that surely even that spineless Peter Pettigrew could create. Why had he summoned Snape for such a piddling task? The answer was all too obvious. It had been a test. The Potions Master could only cross his fingers and pray that he had passed. His heart was still beating, wasn't it?
A shudder ran through him at the memory of seeing his old class chum kneeling at his master's feet. 'All this time
Black really *was* innocent
. It was Peter who betrayed the Potters,' he marveled. He had not believed the news when it had come from Lupin and Black, and those wretched Gryffindor children. He had honestly believed that Voldemort would have told him if Pettigrew was involved. It seemed that, even back then, Voldemort had hedged his bets with his Death Eaters. Black had finally had his name cleared after nearly a year of wrangling and hearings.
Still, Snape thought he had known Peter, as twisted as that sounded, for they surely did not get along. The boy always struck him as shifty yet cowardly. It was painfully clear to him now that he was the reason for Voldemort's resurrection. All the more reason, of course, to bring him down. Snape's mouth curled in its characteristic sneer. It seemed that yet another of his classmates had found a way to bring him torment.
He stepped up his pace a bit, realizing that he just might be in time for his last class. Dumbledore would surely allow him some time to recover from his latest visit to the dark side, but Snape would have none of it. Madame Pomfrey had been kind enough to volunteer to cover his class, having a small amount of knowledge in potions, but he found that his class needed an iron hand to guide them along. Shame that he hadn't been able to arrive a bit earlier -- the class with the Potter brat and his Gryffindor friends was just ending. Tormenting them always seemed to lift his spirits. Ah well, tomorrow was another day.
It must have been the sheer relief at having returned safely and in one piece to Hogwarts that distracted him. Normally he was aware of everyone around him, but for the second time in two days, he ran smack into someone in his path. He flashed a quick snarl at the offender, certainly not offering remotely like an apology, and turned to hasten to the dungeons. A large, strong hand clamped down on his bicep with a force that made him wince. Severus tilted his head, staring in horror at who had seized him. Of all the people
A rather sunken face glared at him fiercely, the man shaking his long hair out of the way with a quick flick of his head. The man's appearance wasn't quite as wasted and neglected as it had been when he'd first returned to Hogwarts, at Dumbledore's insistence. The aged Headmaster had bade them to shake hands and make their peace, but it looked like the tenuous truce was about to be ripped wide open. Let go, Black, the raven-haired professor hissed. I don't have time to spar with you. But I can promise I'll make it up to you another time. Just because the man had been pardoned was no reason for him to strut around as if he owned the whole blasted castle!
Very funny, the other man drawled, gripping Snape's thin arm even harder. Severus choked off a gasp, not wanting his longtime adversary to know the degree of discomfort he was feeling. This was quickly getting out of hand! Sirius was a fool to pick on him. He was not much stronger than he had been in his teenage years, but Sirius was diminished from his years in Azkaban and subsequent life on the lam, so the stronger man had lost much of his edge. Plus, Severus had always been renowned for his wide knowledge of curses and hexes, and that skill had only grown in the years. If it was a fight Black was spoiling for, he just might get his wish.
'Keep calm, you're a professor! You can't just go brawling in the halls any time you feel like it! Just put your icy mask back on
yes, that's it
.' He forced himself to take deep breaths, trying to get a handle on the rampaging fury that boiled just beneath the surface. What was it about those blasted Marauders robbed him of his sanity? Let
. he said in soft yet dangerous tones, letting Sirius see that his hand was inching for his wand, concealed within his robes. And for a moment, it seemed that Black would back down, as the crushing grip on his arm relaxed.
Go then, Black spat, shoving him against the wall, and he clipped his head on a statue of an owl. The sharp spike of pain very nearly shattered his tenuous hold on his control. He hissed threateningly, dark eyes flashing an unmistakable warning. Black tossed an offhand comment as he turned to leave, Surprised you even came back, since you're such a good pet of Voldemort's.
With an inarticulate cry, Snape launched himself on his longtime enemy, pummeling him with blows. His advantage of stunning Black was brief, however, as the stronger man managed to kick him aside. A bony yet powerful fist caught him on the shoulder as he half-turned, but in that instance he had whipped out his wand. He knew he could never win a fight with fists alone, but with his wand in his hand he was unmatched. Snape yelled out a vicious curse in defiance, and a bolt of bluish energy shot from the end of his wand. Black was unfortunately more on his toes than Snape had anticipated, for he dodged and just barely missed the streak as it sizzled past his ear, striking a statue and causing it to sizzle and melt slightly.
As Snape positioned himself to deliver a second curse, Black struck his outstretched hand, sending the wand skittering across the floor, out of reach. Any advantage the smaller and frailer man had had was gone, but it hardly mattered for him. The emotions that had been roiling in him ever since Voldemort's return simply erupted, and his hands locked around Black's throat, mindless to everything but exorcising all the rage that burned inside him. Sirius gave a rather satisfying choking sound but managed to land a blow on his jaw, loosening his grip. The next strike was to his stomach, causing him to lose his balance. The pain he received felt nearly as good as the kind he inflicted. It reminded him that he was alive, that he had to keep fighting, that he was not completely dead inside.
Accio wand! he called as he knelt on the floor. The slender bit of wood responded automatically, soaring to meet his outstretched hand. Just as his fingers brushed the surface, a large boot stomped down on his hand, causing stars to swim past his vision. He was trapped, on his knees before an attacker! As he tried to work the wand between his fingertips, to aim it and use it, Black's mighty fist swung downward and caught him directly across the bridge of his prominent nose. A sickening crack was audible to both of them, and then his black robes were coated with a rush of red. He clapped his free hand over the injury, a shrill cry of pain escaping him. Black had never been this vicious before! This went beyond their adolescent fistfights and duels of the past. He had been right along not to trust Black -- the years in Azkaban had clearly unhinged him.
Black effortlessly plucked the wand from his now limp hand, smirking at the defeated man at his feet. Shall I snap this in half? he mocked, seemingly unmoved at the growing streams of blood that leaked from underneath Snape's hands onto his robes. You have no right to be here, Severus. Dumbledore may be fooled by your lies, but I'm sure not. I know exactly how deceitful you can be. But at least without this, you won't be quite as dangerous.
Snape followed the wand in Black's grip with wide eyes. He had become very attached to that particular wand. It was said that the wand chose its owner, but in time the owner surely became accustomed to the wand's quirks and idiosyncrasies, so that no other wand would do nearly as well. He tried to move his hand from under the boot, but Black merely ground his foot down harder, waving the wand out of his reach. Snape glared at him balefully. I see some things haven't changed.
But some things have. Sirius stared meaningfully at the hand trapped underneath his book, the Dark Mark concealed by the arm of his robes.
Snape flushed an angry red. How dare you judge me?! You know nothing of who I am!
Come now, break it up! a firm voice called out, followed by a brisk clap of hands. Snape looked up to see Professor McGonagall approaching, a look of disapproval on her face, pushing through a throng of students. Her expression changed to one of shock when she beheld exactly who had been fighting. Mister Black! I expected better of you! Let him up this instant! Your childish behavior shames our house. She held out her hand expectantly, and he reluctantly handed back the wand, removing his foot only after grinding the trapped hand one more time. Now go somewhere else. Far away from me, preferably. Throwing one baleful glare over his shoulder, Black stalked off for the nearest exit. He moved a bit stiffly, revealing that Snape had gotten a few good licks in after all.
My gracious, Severus, what has he done to you? she breathed as she saw the amount of blood that spattered his clothing and still dripped from his hand. She reached for his elbow to help him to his feet, but he gave her a cross look and pushed himself up with his other hand, already bruised and swelling. It was then that he fully realized that he had an audience of stunned students. He fixed them with his fiercest glare, which was somewhat mitigated by the hand that still was clenched over his nose. Get lost! he roared, and they scattered like a flock of startled birds, but already they had started to whisper. Great. Just great. He had put all that effort into cowing and intimidating them so they would leave him the hell alone, and now they had seen him whipped into a bloody mess. With his luck, Potter would have been watching too. Watching and smirking. Just like his insufferable father. Damn them both.
Come on, she said briskly. I'll walk you to the hospital wing.
I'm fine, Minerva, honestly, he sighed. I can manage on my own.
She shook her head at his stubbornness, handing his wand back, which he stuffed angrily back into his robes. Dumbledore will have my head if you pass out from loss of blood on the way. They set off together, him grumbling some rather colorful things under his breath as she worked a brief charm to staunch the bleeding. He was irked that one of his coworkers had found him in such a humiliating predicament, but if it had to be anyone (besides Dumbledore himself), it might as well be Minerva McGonagall. Despite their continual house feud, she was one of the few professors he could actually converse with for more than two minutes without feeling the need to rip out his hair.
Do you know two Hufflepuffs nearly fainted when they saw you bleeding? I believe they were under the misguided assumption that you were
nosferatu. Her usual stony, no-nonsense expression does not change in the slightest, but he caught the smallest of twinkles in her eye. He allowed himself a brief smirk, and wonder of wonders, a slight chuckle vibrated in his chest. The stern woman nodded. I thought that would amuse you. Did you start that particular rumor?
The smirk reappeared. I can't take credit for that one. However, I have also made no effort to discredit it. He found it highly amusing that some of his students were gullible enough to think he was a vampire. Maybe he should've bitten Black's neck for effect. Served them right for gawping at him getting trounced.
McGonagall stepped in front of him and flung open the door to the infirmary, calling out, Got a patient for you, Poppy!
Madame Pomfrey turned from her herbs and vials, her jaw dropping as Professor Snape entered, both hands clasped firmly over his nose, more to cover the injury than to assuage its pain. She gasped and shooed him into a chair, tapping her foot impatiently until he reluctantly removed his hands. Both McGonagall and Pomfrey winced at the bruising and swelling that surrounded the broken bone. The Transfiguration professor lingered for a moment longer, then turned and silently left. Severus was clearly uncomfortable and embarrassed about the situation as it was. He didn't need a larger audience.
The nurse began to very gently poke and prod at the injury, marveling as he patient held stock-still, showing no sign at all of pain. She opened her mouth to ask how it had happened, then shut it with a snap. He would view such inquiries as intrusive. She was relieved that he had at least come to her this time -- he had a habit of treating his injuries himself, and while he was extraordinarily talented in the art of potions, he wasn't nearly as good at healing. Muttering a few soft words under her breath, she reduced the swelling as best she could. Then she grasped his nose and pushed it upward in one quick jerk, waving her wand above it with her other hand. There! Good as new!
Snape took the hand-held mirror from her and gave it the briefest of glances. His reflection scowled back at him, mocking him. His injury looked immeasurably better, though there was still some noticeable swelling around his nose and surrounding tissues. 'Just great. Now it's even more prominent than ever.' He tossed the mirror aside, unable to bear the sight another moment. With a slight nod, he swept out of the infirmary. You're welcome
she said faintly.
You only see what your eyes want to see
How can life be what you want it to be?
You're frozen when your heart's not open.
You're so consumed with how much you get
You waste your time with hate and regret
You're broken when you're heart's not open
-- Frozen -- Madonna
Professor Snape beheld his last class's worth of students departing, a scowl firmly affixed on his face. Unbidden, his mind cast back to last night's discussion with Dumbledore. They had rehashed the unpleasant fight, naturally, and Severus was gratified to note that Black would be in for quite an unpleasant dressing-down from the Headmaster. However, the old wizard had other things to discuss, and in fact had presented him with a request -- an order, really, but Dumbledore had a way of making the harshest demand sound like a polite entreaty. Snape had argued with him, grumbled and growled and even yelled a few times, but both of them had known that he would do it. His little display of temper was just to keep the status quo, so the Headmaster would not think that his will could be bent so easily.
Tutor the Potter boy, he growled. Tutor him indeed! And teach him what? The many ways the Death Eaters liked to kill? How they relished every scream of their victims?
Teach him, Severus, the shrewd old wizard had told him. Arm him with the knowledge of what he is about to face. Steel his resolve for the coming battle. And, above all, teach him how to fight back. There is no better man for the job than you.
And it was thus that, despite his better judgment, he had cornered Potter after class and told him, in clipped tones, to meet him at eight o'clock in the classroom. Potter, having already spoken to Dumbledore, did not question, merely nodding a bit in resignation. The boy obviously could not bear the thought of being with him for a whole extra hour. The feeling was wholeheartedly mutual.
As much as he dreaded the eighth hour, the time seemed to simply fly by. After dinner, he busied himself concocting a mixture, letting the familiar routine soothe his nerves. And, before he even realized what time it was, a timid knock sounded. Snape briefly consulted his pocket watch and uttered a soft curse. Already? Come in, he snapped, and the door creaked open just enough to allow a young teenage boy with glasses and slightly unkempt hair entered. He brushed away an errant lock from before his eye and said in a voice that wasn't quite as steady as he hoped, I'm here, Professor.
So I see. Snape left his bubbling concoction and turned to face the intruder. He gestured to one of the classroom chairs, and Harry fell into it gratefully, as he positioned himself to lean against the large desk. I can tell that you are less than thrilled to be here. I myself can think of about a hundred other things I'd rather do, swallowing ground glass being amongst them. He sighed and ran his hand through his dark, eternally greasy-looking hair. But we cannot turn from the face of duty. I will teach you what you need to know, and you will learn and not ask too many questions. As for the rest of the time, you stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours. Agreed? The nod of an ink-colored head was good enough for him. Very well. Just so we understand each other. Now, if you are prepared--
Suddenly Potter jumped to his feet, mouth open, finger pointing. Professor! Your potion! he exclaimed. Snape turned just in time to see his painstaking efforts of the past few hours roiling in its cauldron, then surging upward in a spectacular eruption, showering the surrounding area with smoking whitish liquid. He looked at it for a moment, speechless, then uttered an extremely vulgar curse and dove at the mess, trying to salvage the remnants of the mixture. Dammit! A total waste, he growled. Glaring at the mess, he pulled out his infrequently-used wand and cast a cleansing spell. That took care of the spattering, but the cauldron still sat smoking and burnt. My favorite cauldron, too, he lamented, setting it aside.
He swiftly turned his head and pinned Harry with a venomous look. The young man forced his mouth to work, then managed to choke out, I-I'm sorry, Professor. It was my fault. It hurt his pride to say it, but the furious glint went out of the Potion Master's eyes. Snape knew that it was really his own fault for allowing himself to become distracted, but he would certainly never admit that to that rotten Gryffindor whose head was far too swollen already. Very well, he said grudgingly. I fear our first lesson will be slightly delayed. I'd best get started on a new potion straight away. Your precious werewolf is depending on it. The last few words were practically spat from his mouth. Harry stiffened at the tone but wisely held his tongue. This mixture would help his dear friend, who had returned to Hogwarts as well at Dumbedore's request. He knew how Lupin depended on the Wolfsbane Potion to keep his sanity during the full moon.
Harry shifted from foot to foot, then blurted out, Can I help? It might go faster if the both of us worked on it.
The professor's face formed a sneer, then relaxed as he genuinely considered the offer. I won't let you help create the actual potion. It is extremely complex and requires precise doses. However, you can assist in passing me the ingredients I require. He stalked around the room, gathering a clean cauldron and a large spoon to stir with. Without looking up, he began to call out ingredients. Harry had no trouble finding them -- Snape kept his supplies very neatly ordered, alphabetized and sorted by potency. He watched in reluctant awe as Snape poured the ingredients from each bottle directly into the cauldron without bothering to measure them. There was no doubt that, if the amounts had been placed on a scale, they would exactly equal the required amount.
Wormwood, the other man called out, hunched intently over the cauldron. Harry dutifully turned to fetch the ingredient. He looked on the shelf on which he expected it to be, but it was nowhere in sight. He even peeked behind the other bottles to see if it had gotten pushed aside somehow. No such luck.
it's not there.
What do you mean it's not there? Are you looking in the right place?
Harry bristled but managed to keep his temper in check. Positive. I see witch hazel, wolfsbane, but no wormwood.
Snape stalked past him, finger outstretched and ready to point at the blatantly obvious bottle
which wasn't there. There was nothing but an open space. His finger wavered in the air, and Harry felt a surge of defiant triumph. Where could that blasted bottle have gone to? I had it this morning! Grumbling under his breath, he made a brief circuit of the room, dark eyes roaming in search of the bottle. Finally he uttered a locating charm, and his wand tugged in his hand, pointing downward at the far corner of the room. He stomped over to the area and bent down, practically lying down on the cold stone floor, craning his head to see. There! It was there, underneath the desk, lying in the shadows. He strained and managed to snag it, dragging it out, and he straightened, nearly cracking his head on the desk. Blasted first years! he ranted. Can't be trusted to treat anything with respect! In this respect, Harry had to agree. It was rather careless of whichever student had been sitting there. For a brief moment, he understood Snape's anger toward those who did not take potions seriously, then it faded. Who would actually be interested in mixing together a bunch of smelly chemicals anyway?
The glowering professor returned his attention to the cauldron, adding the infusion of wormwood. He called out a few more ingredients, then demanded dragon-hide gloves. Harry handed them to him wordlessly, a question in his eyes. Ignoring his curiosity, Snape headed for the furthermost rack and selected a thin decanter. Stand back, he snapped as he approached. I don't want you getting in the way of this. Harry was only too happy to back away as the sallow-faced man uncorked the bottle, noting how its contents fizzled and bubbled ominously. Snape took a large amount of care as he poured its contents into the cauldron, and even wiped the bottle after capping it once more. He busied himself with replacing the ingredient as Harry idly thought that that particular item would surely never find itself on the list of classroom potions.
The boy watched his professor working away at the mixture bubbling merrily before him, rather interested to see that Snape muttered to himself occasionally as he stirred it, making random notes on its consistency and hue. As he worked on the potion, his normal abrasiveness seemed to fade, leaving him to appear almost content. Potion-making was a subtle and unappreciated art, and it seemed to pacify the taciturn man. Harry blinked in surprise. He had never seen Snape so calm and relaxed in his presence. Finally the man stepped back, allowing the spoon to stir on its own in a circular rhythm. Their gazes locked, and Snape seemed a bit startled, as if he had forgotten that he had company. All right, Potter, he muttered. I suppose we have a bit of work to do.
But what about the potion? he asked nervously, certainly not wanting a repeat of the episode from earlier.
It will be fine for an hour as long as it is constantly stirred. After that, I will work on the second phase.
Second phase?! Harry goggled. Just how long did this thing take to brew anyway? It must kill Snape to waste so much energy for someone he despised.
Snape allowed himself a smirk. I told you that it was a very complex potion. It contains three stages and must be handled very delicately. That fact seemed to please him to no end. Harry quickly revised his previous thought. The Potions Master clearly enjoyed the challenge that such a complex task presented.
He suddenly clapped his hands together in one brisk movement. We have precious little time left. We had better begin the lesson while we still have the opportunity. Today we will practice avoiding hexes and curses. I know that Moody -- or rather, the one who was impersonating him -- has introduced you to the Unforgivable Curses. I also know for a fact that you have well-mastered the disarming spell. His eyes narrowed, and Harry flinched guiltily. He, in conjunction with Hermione and Ron, had used the Expelliarmus Charm with enough force to knock Snape unconscious two years ago. He really was hoping that Snape wouldn't bring that up. He realized that Snape was still speaking and dragged his mind back to the lecture at hand.
I may cover some of the same ground, but I want to make sure that your training is thorough. The first spell we are going to work on is the reflecting spell. This will allow you to turn an opponent's curse back on himself. Harry nodded, wishing he had learned this one a lot sooner. It would have protected him a lot better than ducking and running! The command is reflectus. The trick is to execute it at the proper moment to redirect the incoming curse. Ready?
Before Harry could even nod, Snape whipped out his wand and shouted Cerinus! His skin promptly turned a shunshine-yellow color. Again Snape moved and called out. Harry yelped Reflectus!, but the spell was a bit late, and he was suddenly seized with a nasty crawling sensation. Snape looked rather irritated, shifting back and forth slightly, and Harry bit back a nasty grin. He had been able to reflect at least a portion of that one. The next twenty minutes passed in very much the same manner, Harry reflecting each curse and spell as it came hurtling toward him, until he could turn back each and every one. Snape was a rather interesting sight, skin a mottled red and blue, covered in alternating scales and boils. Finite incantatem! With that, the both of them were restored. After that they moved onto several other similar methods of deflecting, dissipating, and dodging dangerous curses.
After some time, the Potions Master surveyed him with a critical eye. I think we've done enough for today. Return at the same tomorrow night. We have much to accomplish. He then turned his back on the young man, checking on his bubbling potion, leaving Harry to scowl crossly. He'd done a good job, and Snape knew it! Would it kill the man to say a kind word to him? It wasn't as if Harry was enjoying this any more than he was. He stomped off, unconsciously doing a very good imitation of Snape as he stalked back to the Gryffindor tower.
As promised, Harry met Professor Snape in his dungeon classroom at eight o'clock the following night. His feet shuffled into the room, wanting to take him almost anywhere else, even off to the library to do homework. How did Snape expect him to get all his Potions homework done with all this extra training? Then again, how did the Potions Master manage to get his papers graded with so little free time?
This time, instead of preparing potions or marking papers, Snape had been overtly awaiting his arrival, leaning against his desk, arms crossed in typical fashion. You're on time, he observed in a sardonic tone. Harry was forced to bite back a sharp retort. He made it sound like an insult! Would the professor have been happier if he'd been late? Then again
maybe Snape would have appreciated an excuse to postpone their little rendezvous, if even for a few extra minutes. And of course there would be the added pleasure of taking points from Gryffindor.
Harry nervously pulled out a stool and sat down behind one of the desks, preferring to have the small barrier before him and the creepy Potions Master. He licked his lips nervously. What will we be studying tonight? he said in a voice that was almost steady.
Without removing his burning gaze from the boy, Snape reached behind him and drew forth a large golden cup filled with a viscous black fluid. Today, Potter, he said in a languid tone, we will study pain.
Pain?! Harry could not keep the shock and fright out of his voice.
That is correct. Snape's expression was stony. The Death Eaters are masters at administering pain. Some view it as an amusing pastime, others as a work of art. If you want to survive another encounter with them, it's time we built up your resistance.
Harry shuddered visibly. He had felt pain of varying degrees, from a broken arm to the Cruciatus Curse itself, and the more he had felt, the less he ever wanted to feel. Amazing how much agony the human body could feel
. He looked up, realizing that Snape was watching his reaction very closely. Isis this really necessary? he stammered. I mean
there's no way out of feeling the pain, is there? What good would it do to study it?
The black-clad professor sneered at him. Foolish Gryffindor. Your house may be vaunted for its bravery, but that alone will not save you from torture. Listen very carefully, for I will not repeat this. Snape leaned forward, and Harry became perfectly still, realizing that something crucial was at stake. It is true that there is no escaping the pain. The trick is to function despite it, to shove it down into an isolated part of yourself and manage it, control it. In this lies your best hope for survival.
The boy found himself becoming hypnotized by Snape's voice and the intense look in his eyes. He found himself nodding, understanding beginning to dawn. He spoke hesitantly, not liking the taste of the words as they left his mouth. When Voldemort hit me with the Cruciatus Curse, I was helpless. It was the most awful pain I have ever known, and if he had then used the Killing Curse on me I would have been very grateful. Even if I had not been tied up, I would not have been able to act.
Snape's expression flickered slightly at Potter's mention of the agonizing curse that was put upon him. Harry set his jaw. 'Didn't think I had experienced that kind of pain, did you?' he mocked silently. He blinked in surprise when the Potions Master passed him the goblet.
The professor's eyes were cold once more as he icily beheld his student eyeing the potion warily. I'm so relieved you finally see the point of this exercise, he said sarcastically. Of course, to properly master pain one must experience it. The mixture you hold in your hands is most commonly known as the Agony Serum. Not a very inventive name, although it is a very apt one. The duration of its effects can be modified. I have adjusted this particular brew to last for approximately two minutes.
Potter stared at the potion in abject horror. You really expect me to drink this?!! Merlin, but Snape truly was a sadist! He suddenly quailed, allowing nerves to take over. How could Dumbledore have possibly entrusted his safety to such a monstrous person?
Snape's expression was carefully neutral. It is your choice, after all, Potter. But consider what it is that I am offering you. The mixture will cause you considerable pain, true, but it will help fortify you for the future. Best to explore your tolerance in a controlled, safe atmosphere than to learn about it at the mercy of Voldemort's followers. You Gryffindors are always posturing about bravery find it within yourself and use it!
Gulping, forcing himself not to think, Harry grasped the goblet and drained its contents swiftly. He had expected its contents to be acrid, but the liquid was cool as it spread down into his stomach. He scarcely noticed as Snape turned and produced his wand, uttering a silencing charm on the room. For a moment there was a blessed feeling of numbness then it was overwhelmed in a fireball of pain. He doubled over, the goblet falling from his nerveless fingers as he let out a shrill scream. Tendrils of pain shot out from his abdomen, radiating through his limbs, licking at his fingers and toes, threatening to eat him alive. Tears squeezed out of his eyes, trickling down his cheeks, bringing with them a stinging shame. An agonized moan tore from his throat. How could he possibly hope to master this awful sensation? He was drowning, suffocating in it!
His hands twisted on his thighs, bunching the material of his trousers in his sweaty fists, seeking to exorcise the terrible pain, his mouth twisted in a grimace. Slim yet strong hands closed over his own, squeezing with surprising strength. Focus! a voice hissed harshly. Control the pain! Gather it into a ball and use it, channel it! You are stronger than it! Harry opened his eyes and raised his head, locking gazes with Snape. Glazed green eyes met smoldering black, and as Harry stared into the depths of Snape's eyes, mesmerized, he felt the pain begin to subside. Realization dawning, he struggled to manage the pain, to gather it deeper inside himself, trying to shut it away as his body trembled violently under the strain. The pain became distant, almost unimportant, and his mind began to clear. The Potions Master watched him carefully, noting the control as it was asserted, and Harry's hands began to relax their fierce grip on his thighs. His breathing became less labored, and the tension eased out of his body. The two minutes had passed. He had done it.
The hands that were clutching the boy's were removed, and Snape leaned back, the accustomed scowl returning to his features. A minimal attempt at self-control, he growled, but the cross words made Harry feel somewhat lighter. Coming from the taciturn professor, it was practically a glowing compliment. I think I could manage to better control my pain next time, he said a bit breathlessly. He was still rather winded from the experience.
Unfortunately, that kind of control comes only with experience, Snape said flatly. It is possible to build up a small measure of tolerance to the Cruciatus Curse, but never to fully resist it. It is in your best interest to either avoid that curse whenever possible.
The words tumbled out of his mouth before he could bite them back. Have you ever experienced the Cruciatus Curse? 'Stupid, stupid!' he cursed mentally, seeing the professor stiffen. 'He will be furious with you now!'
To his astonishment, Snape turned his head to intently study the top of his desk. More times than I care to remember. His head jerked up and he fixed Potter with a lethal glare, causing the student to shrink back in his seat. He was clearly furious with himself for revealing so much.
Harry stammered under the weight of that stare. Iis it really possible to master pain? To put it to use, as you said?
With a bit of training, yes, it is possible. Snape bent and retrieved the goblet, heading over to a cauldron sitting docilely on a table off to the side. He sighed in irritation. Since it is so difficult to convince you, it seems that a practical demonstration is in order. I have just enough for a second dose. He grumbled under his breath, yet loud enough for Harry to hear, Albus, you don't know what you ask of me. He ladled the remnants of the concoction into the goblet, and Harry could not help but notice that the dosage was actually greater than what he himself had been offered. With a sarcastic semblance of a smile, the Potions Master tipped the glass at him in a perverse salute and neatly swallowed its contents.
Harry watched in morbid fascination as Snape spluttered slightly, clutching his stomach and nearly dropping the goblet, finally setting it down on the desk with an unsteady hand. He saw the pale jaw clamp down, the ebony eyes fix in a determined stare, the long fingers curl into fists. There was a barely audible hiss of pain, then the pallid man forcibly pushed himself away from the desk and began to wander about the classroom, straightening the desks and rearranging his potions stock. His discomfort was betrayed only by the tremble in his hands, the clenched jaw, and the slightly uneven gait that made his usual swoop-and-stalk a bit less intimidating.
At last the slender man breathed a soft sigh of relief and straightened, the potion having finished its work. He made his way to the desk and pulled the chair around to sit in front of Harry. The boy gaped at him unabashedly, awed at what he had just seen. He had *felt* the blazing agony that the concoction had sent through him, yet Snape had barely given a sign of discomfort. That was brilliant! he breathed.
Snape allowed a smirk to cross his features, the closest he would ever get to a smile. It *is* possible to function while experiencing a great deal of pain. This is the advantage you will have over the Death Eaters. They expect their victims to crack and surrender to them. If you manage to keep your wits about you, you will most likely come out on top.
You make it look so easy.
The man grimaced slightly, looking down at his slender hands. I've had a lot of experience. I sincerely hope this is one lesson you will never need to use. When he lifted his head, the stern Potion Master persona had returned. We will return to this lesson at a future date. There is another matter I would like to cover: survival in a hostile environment. Harry sat back in his chair, scowling slightly. This was going to be a Potions lesson, he just knew it. For the remaining time, Snape fired out random questions, such as Which herb is beneficial for blood clotting and can be found in many forests? Harry was forced to scour his memory, only half-paying attention to Snape's action as the professor lined up five cauldrons and began to concoct different potions. It wasn't until they had begun to bubble and froth that he bothered to pay attention to the ingredients that still lay out. It was obvious from one glance that nothing on the table could be purchased at Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. It was far more likely that they had been procured from the creepy Knockturn Alley
Potter! Are you listening?!
The irritable voice broke through his stupor, and he looked up to see Snape glowering at him. The professor followed his gaze to the dark potions brewing. Those
those aren't for
Snape gave him a sneer. They certainly aren't for the infirmary, nor will you find the recipes in any book that is not in the restricted section. I've been
to produce them. They do take quite a bit of time, so I hope your *delicate sensibilities* -- he fairly snarled the words -- are not offended if I begin now.
Harry swallowed, his throat suddenly tight. I take it that Dumbledore was not the one to request this of you. He was fervently glad that he did not recognize any of the foul substances before him. He was sure that they served no good purpose.
A short, derisive bark of laughter was his answer. Hardly.
Harry glanced down at his wrist at his magic-powered wristwatch. He could hardly believe that the hour had passed so swiftly. You're dismissed. Snape did not even look up from his cauldrons.
See you tomorrow, he tossed over his shoulder as he prepared to close the door behind him.
No, you won't, the Potions Master corrected. I have an appointment that it is imperative to keep. Harry noticed the man's gaze flicker to the cauldrons, and his blood ran cold. The Death Eaters. And seeing as the weekend comes next, I will next see you on Monday.
Okay. Monday it is, then. Just before he closed the door, he added swiftly, Good luck. Then the door slammed and there was the sound of scampering feet fleeing the dungeons. Severus shook his head, looking at the closed door with something bordering on amusement. The lad had actually wished him well.
The weekend passed by in a pleasurable blur for Harry. He had actually finished his homework early and spent the rest of the time playing Wizard chess with Ron and sharing Hermione's stash of sweets from Hogsmeade. He shared what he had learned in Snape's lessons with his two friends. They were absolutely open-mouthed in horror over the pain lesson, though Hermione, after she had recovered from the shock, realized how valuable such an experience could be. Although they had certainly not planned to do any work over the weekend, the blocking and reflecting spells were actually quite useful, and they spent a lot of their time turning back the curses they flung at each other. Ron gave Harry a wolfish grin. The Slytherins had better watch out! Their very own Head of House had given the Gryffindors an excellent line of defense against their sneaky, underhanded tricks.
Harry caught himself almost looking forward to tonight's lesson. He had learned more about the Defense against the Dark Arts in two days than he had in his entire second year. Then again, Lockhart had never actually taught anything of use in that class. Perhaps the greasy Potions Master would actually be a good fit for the job
He fidgeted through his classes, hardly interested in something as pointless as peering into a cloudy crystal ball or turning kittens into balls of string. What possible application could they have on the real world? He still dreaded Potions, of course, but at least it gave him a chance to see how Snape had fared on his appointment. As usual, at the precise moment the class began, Snape burst through the doors as if fired out of a cannon, stomping to the front of the room, and briskly scrawling the day's assignment on the board. It wasn't until he turned to face the class that Harry saw how badly things had gone. His heart stopped for one painful second as he took in the dark circles under the fathomless eyes and the shadows across the pale cheeks. Oh, Merlin
. However, Snape quickly proved that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his sharp tongue, promptly taking away ten points from Hermione for being ahead of her classmates in preparing the day's potion. He then reamed Ron for his sloppy handwriting on last week's report and threatened to make him write twice as much if the mistake was repeated. Neville managed to upset his cauldron fifteen minutes into the class, causing the Potions Master to harangue the red-faced boy mercilessly, cursing his entire lineage. Of course he reserved his best, most pointed barbs for Harry himself. In swift succession, his brain capacity was criticized, his parentage insulted, and his dismal future projected. Harry bit his lip fiercely, forcing back a furious reply. 'He's baiting you, looking for an excuse to give out detention
. This is probably a catharsis for him, just let him get it out
He nearly went limp with relief when the class finally ended, the snarling beast of a professor allowing them to report with a parting insult or two, and the usual mound of homework. He growled when Harry passed by, seemingly disappointed that the boy had not given him the satisfaction of punishment. Eight o'clock, Potter! he ground out as Harry tried to slink past him. Don't even dream of being late!
Of course, after that the time just seemed to melt away. In order to get as much of his Potions homework done as possible, Harry worked with his quill and parchment while shoving bites of food into his mouth over the dinner table. He darted quick glances at the teachers' table, but Snape never looked his way once. He did note that the sour Potions Master did not seem to have much of an appetite that night. He was not particularly surprised when the man excused himself from the table early into the meal, retreating in the direction of the dungeons.
Harry approached the classroom with trepidation, trying in vain to stifle the scowl written on his features. He was not wild about spending yet another hour cooped up with the bitter, sardonic professor, but he didn't really have much choice, did he? He was jolted out of his thoughts as he pressed against the door and found it wouldn't budge. Wha
? he muttered. Where was Snape? He should be here waiting for him! He had insisted that Harry be on time! What was going on? A quick glance underneath the door told him that the room was completely black. He was not in there, unless he was lurking in the blackness for some mysterious reason. Harry scratched his head. Was this some sort of twisted test of Snape's? He'd hardly put it past him, but this particular scenario didn't seem to be Snape's type. The man usually liked to push him to his limits and grind his nose in his shortcomings. If there was some sort of test to be passed, Snape would want to be visibly present.
'He can't be in his office
that's through the classroom, and I'd probably see the light. Even if he had closed the door in there, it doesn't make sense, unless he's avoiding me for some reason. But if he was, I'm sure he'd have no problem sending me away. Why ask me to come tonight and then not show up?' Harry began to pace up and down the corridor restlessly, unsure of what to do next.
Suddenly he saw a slightly stopped figure slink by. The man whirled to face him, suspicion written all over his face. What are you doing here? Filch growled.
Harry was actually somewhat glad to see the irritable caretaker for once in his life. Looking for Professor Snape, Mister Filch, he said as politely as possible.
Harry didn't like the gleam that word brought to the man's eyes at all. No, sir! he said hastily, scrambling for an explanation that Filch would accept. Couldn't exactly tell him that Snape was schooling him in Death Eater DADA, could he? The professor is giving me some private tutoring.
Filch gave a snort of disbelief. That'll be the day! His expression then grew thoughtful, perhaps realizing that Snape had indeed been keeping Harry after hours in the classroom for the past several days. Well, I suppose he's in his chambers. Can't think of anywhere else he'd be. He gestured down a side corridor. Third door on the left. You'll recognize it it has the Slytherin crest engraved on it. Harry ran off, a grateful look on his face, relieved both to have an idea of where to find Snape and to get away from Filch. True to his word, the door was exactly where it should be, a magnificent engraved snake marking Snape's living quarters. It wasn't until he had actually knocked that he had grave misgivings. What was he doing knocking on Snape's door? If the man was indeed inside, it was certain he didn't want to be disturbed. He couldn't imagine anything worse than a boiling-mad Snape bursting out of his room, armed with a week's worth of detentions. He braced himself, but after a moment the tension drained out of him. Snape wasn't here, pure and simple. Harry should be going before anyone caught him here
. Just as he turned to go, a low voice called out, Who's there?
Harry cringed and clenched his hands nervously. Damn! It's Harry Potter, sir. Um, you requested me to meet you for our lesson
his voice trailed off uncertainly.
Another excruciating silence. Then a series of muttered words, and the door swung open. Harry stepped forward as if underneath a spell, drawn forward by horrified fascination. He'd never seen the inside of Snape's chambers before. Come to think of it, he doubted very many people had. The interior was quite dark, the curtains pulled against whatever moonlight could filter through the windows. The only light in the room came from a brightly burning fire in the fireplace, throwing eerie shadows onto the walls. Harry shivered from nerves. It had been a rather chilly night, despite the time of year, and the fire looked welcoming. An eerie song played from an invisible source, and the boy realized with dread that it was a requiem. His eyes darted everywhere, trying to take in the entire room as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. The sitting room was decorated in Slytherin house colors (and black, of course), with a green and silver rug on the floor and similar tapestries on the walls. A large Slytherin banner covered a third of the far wall. He could spy several doorways that lead elsewhere, probably to the bedroom and bathroom. Several towering bookcases stretched all the way to the ceiling, laden with thick, heavy volumes. It was evident that the man who resided within was an avid scholar. There were several framed diplomas and awards on the walls as well, but it was too dark to make any of them out, except the one that proudly bore the Hogwarts crest most likely his graduation diploma from the very school he now taught at. Harry's curiosity was most certainly piqued. A slight movement caught his eye, and he jumped, startled nearly out of his wits. Snape sat in a plush green chair, staring fixedly into the flickering flames. That cursed man had an incredible talent for blending into the shadows!
Why are you here? the voice was soft yet still threatening. Snape had not even bothered to turn his head.
Th-the lesson, sir, Harry stammered, surprised his mouth was still working. He noted with even greater shock that Snape was holding a nearly empty glass in his hand, which was no doubt related to the half-empty bottle of scotch on the table in front of him. This did not gel well at all with his vision of the vitriolic Potion Master. He knew that the Hogwarts teachers occasionally indulged he'd seen them himself in Hogsmeade but Snape had never been among them. Somehow the bottle of liquor before him just looked
Canceled. The voice was flat and expressionless. Finally Snape turned his head to peer at Harry crossly. Didn't you get my note?
Harry did an admirable job of holding his ground, while all the while he wanted to dash out of the room screaming. At least Snape was fully attired, save his boots his feet were encased in thick black slippers as protection against the icy floor. Harry wouldn't have been able to handle seeing the eternally bundled-up professor in something as revealing as a dressing gown. He should never have come here! N-no, sir. I'm sorry, I didn't.
Snape rose abruptly and crossed the room to a small desk, and this time Harry was unable to keep from jumping back. His nerves were totally frayed. The stern man growled as he picked up a piece of paper lying right on top. Oh, nice one, Severus, he griped. You write the boy a note but forget to deliver it. Stupid git. The boy couldn't help but wince at the cutting tone with which Snape addressed himself. Nice to know that the man got angry with himself, as well as the rest of the world, over mistakes.
Harry bit his lip, partly out of nervousness, and partly in an effort to hide a smile that threatened to burst across his face at his taciturn professor insulting himself. Snape fixed him with a glare, and Harry shrank back instinctively. I am hardly up for teaching a lesson tonight. We will continue from where we left off tomorrow.
Yes, of course, sir, the boy murmured, moving backward until he impacted with a chair, cursing under his breath. At least Snape hadn't started to scream or breathe fire. He probably had the alcohol to thank for it it seemed to have a calming effect on the temperamental man. I'll just be going now
Snape stared at him for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. He absently caressed the Dark Mark on his arm, his eyes holding Harry's hostage. The boy felt as if he were drowning, suffocating, unable to extract himself. Young people do foolish things, Potter. Make your choices carefully, for they will follow you for the rest of your life.
Harry gaped. Sir?
The professor turned away, walking with measured steps back to his chair. He seated himself methodically, facing towards the flames once more. Seconds ticked away, and Harry feared that the man had forgotten all about him. Then the voice spoke, soft and filled with a bitter regret. I was not much younger than you when I became a Death Eater. At first, I thought that all of my dreams had been answered. I had everything I ever wanted at my fingertips. But one day I awoke to the realization that my dream had become a nightmare. I have spent the rest of my life trying to atone for the sins of my youth. A moment of impetuousness can haunt for an eternity.
The boy cleared his throat nervously, positive he shouldn't be hearing this. And just what was it that drew you to Voldemort's side, if I may ask?
The voice grew cold and harsh. You may not. Please leave me now. We will not speak of this again. It seems that whatever maudlin, reflective mood that had struck was gone.
O-of course, Professor. Good night. Harry fairly raced out of the room, pulling the door closed with a loud thud. He darted through the halls, not stopping until he was safely in his own bed, ignoring the stares of his roommates. Fortunately, they seemed to understand his need for solitude, a precious rarity. He had a lot to think about. Merlin, what a strange night.
The next morning found the three young Gryffindors huddled together, whispering to each other about the previous night's odd events. Harry cast occasional curious glances towards the empty chair at the professors' table that was noticeably devoid of a black-clad presence. He's still not here, he said, knowing that he was merely stating the obvious.
Hermione shrugged, sending her bushy brown hair cascading over her shoulders. Maybe he's sick. Or he's overindulged.
Ron allowed a broad smile to cross his face. God, I hope so! he breathed. A whole class without Snape breathing down our necks! It would be heaven!
Harry tried to feel as delighted with their professor's absence as his best friend did, but his conscience pricked at him. I can't say I'd cry if he didn't show up for class today
but I'd feel better if he did. I have the awful feeling that things aren't going well for Snape with the Death Eaters. And that can't mean anything good for us.
Ron snorted, but a veil of worry fell over his eyes, extinguishing the usual impish twinkle within. But before he could respond, the door on the side of the Great Hall flew open, and the subject of their furtive conversation swept in, albeit a bit slower and less stately than usual. The man's head was bent, a slight grimace on his face, as he headed resolutely to his usual place at the head table. He plopped himself down gracelessly, took one look at the hotcakes before him, and pushed them roughly away. His normally pale skin tones had faded to a grayish cast, and his eyes were pinched and nearly half-closed, as if the light pained him. The Gryffindor trio watched him surreptitiously as he sipped at a glass of orange juice, nibbling at a piece of toast while he rested his head on his hand. Harry spared Hermione a slight nod. As usual, her suppositions had been dead-on.
Ron could not suppress a groan. Damn. He'll probably be even worse-tempered than usual.
Harry smirked at him. Perhaps not. If Snape is as hung-over as he looks, I doubt he'll be able to stand raising his voice too much. Perhaps he should get drunk more often.
We'll find out in a few minutes, said Hermione matter-of-factly, rising and gathering up her school bag. We've got Double Potions first thing today.
The two boys emitted twin groans of despair as they stood to join her. I hate Tuesdays! Ron wailed as they exited the Great Hall on their way to the dungeons. Double Potions was a chore under any circumstances, but having it first thing was an especially difficult hardship to bear.
When Snape entered the classroom, it was with much less fierce energy as usual, and he actually closed the door behind himself, rather than letting it bounce back into place, as was his usual habit. His pace as he stalked to the chalkboard was slow and deliberate, and the hand that wrote the day's potion recipe was slightly unsteady. It was not until this little ritual was finished that he turned to sneer at the assembled Gryffindors and Slytherins. Today you will be concocting an Endurance Potion. While this is not a particularly difficult potion, it does take strict concentration. Therefore, you must all *pay attention!* He winced slightly at his own vehemence, the throbbing in his head reaching an unbearable level. Anyone who causes trouble will have points deducted from their house in mass quantities. This time his glare was leveled squarely at the small gang of Slytherins, who gaped at him, their expressions of wounded pride almost comical. Harry covered his mouth quickly to smother a snicker. They certainly weren't used to having Snape point his vicious temper in their direction! Beside him, Ron was shaking his head slightly in amazement. Snape had actually threatened to strike points from his own house! I wonder if we can arrange to spike his pumpkin juice? he murmured in Harry's ear, and the boy had to bite his cheek sharply to avoid bursting out in laughter. Such a loud noise (especially a happy one) was bound to grate on Snape's raw nerves.
With a long-suffering sigh, the Potions Master turned and began setting up his own cauldron. Eyes watched him in mild surprise, for Snape did not often prepare potions himself during class time. Miss Granger, do make sure that Mr. Longbottom does not destroy this classroom, he muttered without turning. Neville threw the girl a supremely grateful look as she scooted closer to help. He could tell that Snape was a little off today and hardly wanted to risk provoking him with one of his usual mishaps. Hermione watched the dour man as he added ingredients to his bubbling cauldron, mixed it together, and finally ladled some into a small goblet. Hangover treatment, she murmured to the round-faced boy, who looked down at his seething caldron, pressing his lips together until they turned white, not wanting the object of his anxiety to see his amusement. The tiniest smirk curled his mouth upward as he watched the haggard professor down the concoction in one massive gulp. A small spark of spiteful joy burned in his gut at the sight of his tormentor's misery. Serves him right
To the class's mutual disappointment, Snape seemed to swiftly recover his wits and energy after downing his undoubtedly superbly crafted potion. In fact, the morning's miseries made him even more waspish and foul-tempered than usual. He quickly warmed up to an admirable level of tyranny, snapping at students left and right. And then he whirled and stalked over to Neville Longbottom. The hapless boy shrank back, cowering against his seat, visibly shaken. His potion couldn't be bad, Hermione was actually allowed to help today
.! Snape bent over the cauldron, peering at the mixture with a practiced eye, looking for the slightest deviation in color or consistency. Neville was seized by a sudden attack of nerves, and his hand jerked, knocking soundly against the cauldron. It tipped over in spectacular slow motion, fountaining its contents all over the suddenly shocked and silent Potions Master.
Snape stood rooted to the spot, mouth agape, greenish-brown liquid dripping from his robes, which were smoking in an alarming manner. A pained yowl escaped from his lips, and he whirled and dashed for the door of the classroom, long white fingers already tugging frantically at the buttons of his high-collared shirt. The class as a whole turned to gawk at the open door through which the professor had bolted. A nervous silence followed as all eyes swiveled to focus on the hapless Neville Longbottom, who was quaking as he knelt to try and mop up the mess. Hermione stood and took the rag from his numb hand. Best fetch Madame Pomfrey, she murmured, and the boy raced out of the room in search of the school nurse, grateful for something to do.
Meanwhile, Snape fled to the safety of his private chambers, mercifully so close by. He swiftly shed his spattered and most likely ruined clothes right by the front door, grateful to note that his billowing robes had absorbed most of the scalding liquid. The house-elves that cleaned his quarters were well-versed in the handling of dangerous substances and could dispose of the garments. The ice-cold shower was a miserable shock to his body, and he shivered uncontrollably, glaring crossly at the bright red patches that were appearing on his abdomen and thighs. One day that Longbottom was going to be the death of him! Merlin, he had left the class unattended
who knows what kind of mischief those children would get into
. He muttered a quick drying spell as he exited the shower, going in search of his large bottle of burn salve. Adept fingers long-used to such treatment spread the mixture over his angry-looking burns, then quickly wrapped gauze bandaging around the wounds. After donning a change of clothes, he was ready to assume the tortures of teaching.
Neville burst into the classroom a few minutes later, followed by an alarmed Madame Pomfrey. Both of them gaped at Professor Snape, who had been in the middle of a lecture, looking for all the world as if nothing had happened. Professor! she said breathlessly. Are you injured? Mister Longbottom told me
The man glowered at her, then trained the full force of his malevolent gaze on the hapless boy, quaking and trying to hide behind the nurse. I am fine, Poppy, he informed her in icy tones, his head tilted upward with an air of quiet dignity. My robes protected me from the worst of it. You needn't concern yourself, for I have already dressed my wounds.
The woman gave him a shrewd look. All the same, I would prefer to inspect the injuries myself. She stood her ground as the Potion Master's glare intensified and his lips pressed into an angry, thin line. I will expect to see you in the infirmary before lunchtime. With those victorious parting words, she turned and headed back to her domain, sparing a sympathetic pat on the shoulder for the shivering wreck of a boy.
Once Pomfrey had departed, Neville was left standing alone in the doorway. He slunk back into the classroom, head bowed and shoulders slumped, as if desperately trying to make himself smaller and less of a target. Snape's lips twitched, wanting to form themselves into an awful smile, but he restrained himself. It was not good to let his expression give him away rule number one for a spy. Mister Longbottom, he purred silkily, and Neville froze, having just reached his desk. I believe a deduction of points is in order. Thirty points will be removed from Gryffindor for assaulting a professor. And another twenty for making your friends clean up your mess. His glare shifted to Hermione, Harry and Ron, who all looked outraged. They had tidied up as a favor to Neville!
But that's not fair! Ron exclaimed heatedly. It was an accident! And he went to get help for you! How can you be so bloody A feminine hand clapped itself over his mouth, stifling the damning words that threatened to spill forth. Hermione gave him a stern look, silently warning him not to make the situation any worse. Harry settled for glaring wordlessly at their tormentor, allowing his eyes to speak every vile curse that lay in his heart. He didn't care what Snape had gone through that weekend! He had no right to take it out on someone as fragile as Neville Longbottom!
But Snape was not finished. Get out of my sight, Longbottom, he said with deadly calm. You are spared from detention because I want you nowhere near my dungeons. He turned to sneer at the class as a whole, most particularly at his Slytherins, who looked gobsmacked. A word of advice. Should any of you choose to attack me in such a fashion, you best finish the job the first time. There will not be a second chance. You are dismissed.
Those words seemed to break a terrible spell, and the students leapt to their feet, all racing to be the first to escape the hellish prison that the classroom had become. The Gryffindors all clustered around a flustered Longbottom, who was valiantly choking back tears, at least until they were out of the line of sight from the professor from Hell. Harry spared a glance over his shoulder as they hastily exited the room, just in time to see Snape bury his head in his hands. His stomach performed a disconcerting flop, and he found himself fiercely quashing a streak of sympathy. If Snape couldn't handle the heat, he should get out of the kitchen. It was as simple as that.
* * * * *
The next few days passed in a blur. It was a relief to Harry not to dwell the evenings he spent with Snape, who worked him harder than ever, seeming to take a rather sadistic pleasure in pushing him to his limits. Still, the boy could not help but notice the dark smudges under the man's eyes and the slightly pinched look on his face that betrayed Snape's own fatigue. These lessons took a lot out of both of them, and Harry would have been more than pleased to have a day off, but he knew better than to broach the subject. He had no doubt that the foul-tempered Potions Master would extend the lessons simply to make Harry miserable, even if he himself suffered in the process.
* * * * *
It was with great joy that he left on the trip for Hogsmeade with his friends. At last, a day free of worries, a day to be spent mindlessly wandering from store to store, stuffing his face with sweets and chatting about nothing of consequence. Even the oppressive heat that warned of approaching summer could not dampen his spirits. The butterbeer they shared in the Three Broomsticks tasted especially fine. The day, in fact, had been as close to perfect as possible
until Seamus Finnigan bolted outside the pub and doubled over, becoming violently ill on the flagstones. It was painfully obvious that he had managed, at last, to turn his beverage into rum. The worried exclamations of his classmates summoned Professor McGonagall from within the establishment. She tutted in a disapproving manner as she helped him get cleaned up. Of all the spells to concentrate on! she lamented. Seamus nodded wholeheartedly, entirely regretting his experimentation. She looked past the shivering boy to a tall, dark figure that was stalking past the far end of the road. Professor Snape! Thank heavens you're here! I need your assistance.
Harry froze, his blood turning to ice as the mini thundercloud on legs approached, the man's demeanor as foreboding as his attire. He hadn't even realized that the Potions Master had accompanied them
. He growled in silent frustration, feeling his cheer evaporate. Couldn't he ever escape this hateful man? What was Snape doing here anyway? He had half-thought that the bad-tempered wizard spent his time either hiding from the sunlight or hanging upside-down from the dungeon ceilings like an overgrown bat. He had certainly never thought that someone as bitter as Snape would come on a fun outing such as this.
The dour professor shifted his large sack to the side, reaching into his robes, a soft clanking of glass bottles chiming from the within the bag. Potions ingredients, then. Figures. Snape withdrew a slender vial and held it to the rather green-looking Finnigan, who was holding his head and moaning softly. Drink this, he growled, his scowl growing deeper at the boy's hesitation. It will settle your nauseous stomach. I expect you will have a hangover in the morning, which is entirely your fault, and for which I refuse to provide the antidote. You foolhardy Gryffindors have to learn the consequences of your actions.
Thank you, sir, Seamus murmured, eyes fixed firmly on the ground. He *was* feeling tremendously better, but being indebted to the vitriolic head of Slytherin House was unbearable!
Snape turned his dark eyes on Professor McGonagall. He should remain prone for the return journey. The potion I gave him will be useless if he vomits it out. And if there's one thing I hate, it's a waste of a good potion. He glared fiercely at the young Gryffindor, as if silently daring him to have the gall to void his stomach of the carefully-prepared concoction.
With a beleaguered sigh, McGonagall muttered under her breath, summoning the carriages that would carry them back to Hogwarts. Their outing had been nearly over anyway, and there was nothing like an ill student to put a damper on things for everyone. Into the carriages, everyone! she said sternly, clapping her hands. They went, to her relief, with a modicum of fuss. She was privately pleased to see Harry linger behind, helping Seamus get settled on the padded seat of one of the carriages. It wasn't until everyone had gotten settled that a problem arose there simply wasn't an extra seat to be had. Harry had been squeezed in between Ron and Hermione on the trip down, having endured the discomfort in anticipation of the day's adventures. But with Seamus taking up a bench for himself, Harry had no place to sit at all. If only he had his broom! He'd be able to fly back to Hogwarts in record time!
He darted a quick, nervous glance toward Professor McGonagall, wondering how she would solve this dilemma. The reluctant gaze she shot him, which then slid over to Professor Snape, made his entire body freeze in horror. Oh no
she wouldn't! Harry wearily kissed his pleasant day goodbye. Mister Potter, she addressed him in a voice that was calm yet firm, I am afraid that the student coaches have already been filled. However, you are quite welcome to ride back in the professors' carriage. I assure you that your return trip will be much more comfortable than the one that led you here. His sole pleasure was the look of horror on Snape's face. He was going to hate this even more than Harry himself. The boy allowed a small measure of spite to rise within him. At least he wouldn't be the only one to suffer!
McGonagall fixed the Potions professor with a steady gaze. Is this arrangement acceptable to you, Severus?
The man pressed his lips together in a thin line, looking very much like it was not acceptable to him at all. He breathed a silent sigh, looking the Potter boy from head to toe with a bit of disdain. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, he growled in resignation. Knowing that the students and other professors were becoming restless, McGonagall ushered them into the remaining carriage, which Harry was relieved to see, was reserved for the three of them alone. He wasn't up for making much small talk with his other teachers. The Transfiguration professor diplomatically took her seat next to Harry, leaving Snape to sit by himself on the opposite bench, which was no doubt how he preferred it. It was no small relief to Harry when the carriage started up. The faster they got going, the sooner they would be back at Hogwarts, and he could lament his latest Snape encounter to a sympathetic Ron and Hermione.
The scowling man muttered a few soft words under his breath, and the air in the carriage cooled by several degrees, as if a fresh breeze had blown in. Snape reached into his robe and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his forehead, which was dotted with fine beads of perspiration. What a miserably hot day! he lamented. Harry could not help but gape slightly. He had never seen the man do something so
human. He had thought that Snape was above feeling anything, even changes in the weather.
The woman across from Snape shook her head. You would not be so uncomfortable if you did not wear such long clothing, Severus. I'm sure you are aware of this. Harry cast a sidelong glance at her. Her attire was still dignified and appropriate, but her robes were lighter and more airy, definitely more comfortable for hotter temperatures. The Potions Master, on the other hand, wore exactly the same type of outfit year-round: high-necked shirts with far too many buttons, long pants that reached down to his shoes, all covered by his swishing black robe.
Snape sighed. I hardly have a choice, Minerva. With my complexion, I would burn to a crisp within ten minutes were I not covered properly.
McGonagall raised a questioning eyebrow. Surely there are potions for that.
There are. The man snorted lightly. But they are very time-consuming to brew. The Wolfsbane takes up a good deal of my time as it is. This way is simply more expedient. Harry pressed his lips together and stared fixedly out the window, trying not to laugh at the absurd topic of conversation regarding the amount of clothing his most loathed professor chose to wear.
You need not worry about sunburn indoors, McGonagall pointed out quite reasonably.
The dungeons are much cooler, Snape argued.
Minerva smirked. You are just too set in your ways to change.
The man's thin, pale lips twitched, betraying his amusement. Perhaps. Harry was thunderstruck. This ride could prove interesting after all! He was privately relieved that he didn't seem expected to participate in conversation. He felt awkward as it was.
McGonagall favored her colleague with a small smile. Speaking of summertime, Severus, what are your plans this year? Will you stay at Hogwarts and continue your research projects?
The dark-clad man steeped his fingers together contemplatively, surprising Harry, who had expected Snape to let fly with one of his sarcastic barbs. I haven't yet decided. There's always the annual Potion Masters convention, which is in Strasbourg, France this year. It's beyond me why they chose that place this time around
. Anyway, I have been publishing my efforts to improve upon the Wolfsbane potion, and they are behaving as if Christmas has come early. I am quite certain they will not forgive me if I decline to make an appearance. Though the last time I went, Master Grayson was livid with me for suggesting a possible improvement for his somnolent potion. I dare say he would have strangled me but for the severe arthritis in his fingers.
McGonagall could not hide her amusement. Are these gatherings always so eventful?
Snape rolled his eyes theatrically. Aside for the occasional scuffle, no. Most of the attendees are quite along in their years. Most have taken to the unfortunate habit of calling me 'sonny'. It is really quite irritating.
Minerva's smile broadened at the mental image of a scowling Snape accosted by feeble elderly colleagues, asking to be escorted here and there. Well, you *are* young enough to be a grandson to most of them, she pointed out. Not everyone makes Potions Master at twenty-five. If I recall, you made quite the stir with that accomplishment.
Yes, Snape replied, thankfully not registering that Potter's mouth was once more agape at this news. Before that, the youngest person to ever pass the exam was thirty-four. And he had to take the test three times.
Minerva tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, leaning forward slightly. Enlighten me on this exam. I've heard so much about it that I don't know what is fact and what is fiction. Is it really as awful as I've been told?
The man tilted his head to the side slightly, reflecting. It's quite a bit like the Cruciatus Curse, actually. Both seem to involve agony that continues for hours, and just when you think it will end, it only becomes worse. The exam typically lasts for eight hours, so by the time it is over, those who have taken it no longer have much capacity in the way of coherent thought. Thankfully, there is a retired Potions Master in the vicinity that owns a pub and lets all test-takers take their drinks and a nap at his establishment free of charge.
And it is not unusual for students to take the exam more than once?
Snape shook his head, all traces of hostility fading in the discussion of his profession. In fact, nearly everyone takes the exam two or three times. The first is merely a practice run, to get a feel for the type of questions asked. The test itself is revised every few years I myself have helped with several of those but the general type of questions and their phrasing does not vary much.
Minerva arched an eyebrow at him. But you only took the test once, correct?
Yes. He nodded briskly. I was determined not to suffer through that monstrosity more than once. I crammed for an entire month beforehand. There is no age restriction on those who take the test, so long as they have completed their basic studies. There is also no limit on the number of times the test may be taken, so the age of the test takers can vary widely. I stood out in no way from anyone else, save that I finished a bit early. After I emerged from the exam, I felt as if my brain had turned to pudding and was dripping from my ears, so I stopped in to the pub and ended up sleeping for fourteen hours on a small pallet on the floor. I was quite happy to be shut of the entire affair
his eyes darkened and flashed dangerously,
until I got a summons from the Board of Potions Masters to appear before them the following week. It seems that they thought someone of my youth was incapable of scoring such high marks without some form of *aid*. The word was spat as if it was something distasteful. Harry found himself awed by the expression of indignation on the professor's face. Never mind that the testing facility is full of wards, spells and other protections against cheating of any form. Due to the sheer difficulty of the exam, the pressure to cheat is immense, and the various attempts over the years have been very creative, but no one has ever successfully committed fraud on the test in its entire history.
Professor McGonagall sat back, folding her hands neatly in her lap, a look of fascination on her face. Gracious, Severus, I had no idea that you had gone through such an ordeal for your Potions Master certification! The Transfiguration exam is quite trying but nowhere near such a nightmare as you describe.
Snape's lips twisted into a smirk of sorts. There is a great deal involved in becoming a Potions Master. For many, it is the peak of their career. The board has to be absolutely certain that those who obtain certification are quite worthy of the title. To do otherwise could prove quite catastrophic. Longbottom's little displays in my classroom are but a very mild example of what could go wrong if the experimenter weren't fully versed in his craft. The extreme nature of the exam is quite justified, I assure you. His fathomless eyes got a faraway look as he resumed his train of thought. Naturally, I was quite offended at the suggestion that I had come upon my marks through dishonest means. The board insisted that I retest, which I was quite averse to, but I could not argue with them on the matter. Rather, I named some conditions of my own. If I were to go through that hell-on-Earth again, it would be on my terms. He absently ticked off the points on his long, white fingers. First, they would have to come up with a different test. A harder one. I wanted no questions about my ability. Second, it would have to be ready in a week's time, for I was not about to let the efforts from my month-long study session fade from memory. Third, I wanted two Board members present at all times throughout the entire exam to observe me first-hand and thus eliminate any possible grounds to accuse me of cheating once more. His wry smirk grew. Needless to say, they were not at all eager to accept these terms, and instead administered their own impromptu exam on the spot. They delivered an oral exam that posed some very thorny questions, and also had me brew some very tricky potions, one of which was the infamous Draught of the Living Death. After all of that, they were still not quite satisfied, until I happened by chance to notice the latest edition of Precious Potions that one of the Board members happened to have brought with him. I'll never know why he bothered that rag is nothing but garbage and doesn't deserve to bear the word Potions anywhere in the title. The boy nodded to himself; he had heard Snape rail against that particular publication several times in their classes. I picked it up and began to list all the oversights and inconsistencies covered in the articles. By the time I had finished, I had succeeded in thoroughly convincing them. I was given my certification on the spot and was told that if I neglected to appear at the next Potion Masters' convention I would never be forgiven.
The normally stern woman favored him with a smile. And so you became the youngest Potions Master in history by nearly a decade.
Snape's expression became unreadable. As well as one of the youngest professors.
McGonagall shook her head slightly. Your abilities were never in any doubt at Hogwarts. Professor Grout nearly cried with joy when he found that his most prized student would be replacing him after his retirement. He told Albus that if he had his choice of successors, there would be no other that he would choose.
Harry watched with rapt fascination as the stern lines around Snape's mouth smoothed. I was unaware of that. His voice was softer than usual.
Minerva was looking at him with an unusually kind expression. I'm sure you have made him quite proud.
A deep scowl creased his features once more. I would feel more gratified if the students would actually *pay attention* in my classes! I have done everything in my power to drill knowledge into their thick skulls, and still they are unappreciative of my efforts. I dread unleashing them on the rest of the wizarding world. He rubbed his temples wearily.
McGonagall allowed herself a smirk of her own. Come now, Severus. You know very well that Potions is a difficult subject that few excel in. It is the same for every other subject taught at Hogwarts. For example, I remember a certain young Slytherin whose Transfigured bottle obstinately continued to sport feet.
Snape snorted. Perhaps I could have fixed it if the blasted thing would have stopped trying to run away!
You might have had more success if you had not poked it so roughly with your wand.
The bloody thing just wouldn't hold still!
Harry made a small choking sound. Snape had been McGonagall's student!!! That meant either that McGonagall was older than he had originally believed, or Snape was younger. He just barely restrained himself from smacking his forehead. Snape had gone to Hogwarts with his father, Black and Lupin! He had to be roughly the same age as them! It was just the man's hostile demeanor that made him seem so much older. Listening to the exchange between his professors, he had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. So the great Severus Snape had had difficulties in Transfiguration? Good to know that he had some shortcomings after all!
Feeling uncomfortably like a third wheel, he reached into his robes and pulled out a device not unlike a Muggle Rubik's Cube. It was something that he had purchased from Zonko's nearly a month, and he had worked at it whenever he had a dull moment to pass. He had almost lost himself in the intricate puzzle when a deep, throaty voice intruded. What's that you've got there, Potter? He jumped slightly, looking up with a wary look on his face. Snape couldn't possibly punish him, could he? It's not as if he was playing with it during class! It took a moment for him to register that Snape's tone was astonishingly free of any sarcastic or harsh overtones. Indeed, the man's voice sounded almost
curious? Not wanting to risk his infamous wrath, Harry handed over the item. The Potions Master turned the curious object over in his hands, studying it with overt fascination. It's a puzzle of sorts, Harry explained a bit hesitantly. The object is to change it from a triangle into a sphere. It's more of a mind game than anything. The Muggles have a similar game that was quite popular at one time. Snape continued to study the distorted shape before him with intensity. Harry had succeeded in forming an odd sort of trapezoid, which he hoped was a nice intermediary shape and could be further coaxed into a sphere.
Professor McGonagall's lips twitched upwards, threatening to break into a smile at her colleague's behavior. I confiscated one of those from the Weasley twins. It took me nearly two weeks to solve it. Quite a diverting little toy, I daresay. Harry darted a look her way, surprised that she had played with the twins' contraband and had even found it enjoyable. I suspect that you shall have no trouble with it, Severus. Her words fell on deaf ears, for Snape was already moving the toy within his strong yet supple hands, his long fingers deftly manipulating the moving parts into place with exacting precision. The other two occupants watched him with rapt fascination, nearly hypnotized by his movements, every one of them swift yet deliberate. And within the space of several minutes, Snape held a perfectly-formed sphere in his palm. I had hoped for more of a challenge, he grumbled. He glanced sidelong at the boy. I suppose you want me to restore it for you?
No, thank you, Professor, Harry replied, feeling more than a little inadequate. He hastily stuffed the toy into his robe pocket, knowing he would never touch it again. The sheer ease with which his most hated professor had solved the puzzle had sapped it of all its allure. Did Snape always have to make him feel so incompetent?
An awkward silence fell over the carriage. Professor McGonagall finally broke the tension by choosing what she hoped to be a neutral topic. So what are your predictions for the Quidditch Cup, Severus? I dare say the Gryffindor team has given your Slytherins a run for their money this year.
The familiar sneer returned to the face of the Potions Master. I would rate our chances much higher if our Seeker had actually managed to catch the Snitch at some point. I told Flint not to sacrifice talent for a bribe, but he is notoriously thick-skulled and paid me no heed. I believe he is now seeing the error of his ways as the Cup recedes further and further from his grasp. As Gryffindor is possession of quite a talented Seeker, the outcome of the final match is in little doubt. Harry was absolutely thunderstruck. Snape the ever-snide had actually paid him a compliment, and insulted his precious Malfoy in the same breath! As if suddenly realizing who was listening, the stern man pinned him with a sharp gaze. Don't go getting a swelled head, Potter. Nno, sir! he stammered, not wanting to risk the man's wrath.
McGonagall gave Snape a smug look. So you concede that Gryffindor has a better team?
Snape's face formed itself into a smirk, yet one that was devoid of malice. Hardly. Ten points from Gryffindor for your temerity, Miss McGonagall.
His smirk was mirrored by her own. And ten points from Slytherin for your cheek, Mister Snape.
By this point, Harry had decided to just let his mouth hang open for the rest of the ride. It would be a lot more expedient then closing it, only to have it fall open a moment later. He had always assumed, along with most of the student population of Hogwarts, that Snape and McGonagall couldn't stand each other. He was floored to see that not only did they get along fairly well, they had turned the points system into a private joke! He began to wonder if there had been something wrong with his butterbeer. He had never heard Snape volunteer so much personal information, and with scarcely a trace of animosity. Perhaps he was just hallucinating, and in a moment he'd find himself sitting in the Three Broomsticks, flanked by Ron and Hermione.
A nearly soundless gasp caught his attention, and he looked up to see Snape rest his head in a trembling hand, his skin taking on an even unhealthier pallor than usual. Too hot
he gasped, tugging at his high collar. It was then that Harry realized the cooling charm had worn off, and his own back was slick with sweat. McGonagall shot her colleague a concerned look. Severus, you look faint! For once, won't you sacrifice that stubborn pride of yours and make yourself more comfortable? I promise it will be less embarrassing than keeling over at our feet. He stared at her wordlessly for a long moment, his lips pressed into a thin line, and Harry held his breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion. Then long white fingers were scrambling at the black buttons of that ridiculously high, tight collar, popping them free, and darting downward to fumble at the buttons that fastened his shirt sleeves. Snape smoothed back the opened folds of fabric at his throat, then rolled his sleeves up to his forearms with slightly shaking hands, being painstakingly careful to not expose the reviled Dark Mark that marred his left arm. McGonagall murmured under her breath, and the soothing breeze of the cooling charm was restored. The man's piercing ink-black eyes closed as his head fell back against the seat cushion, the dark lashes curling against the stark whiteness of his face, as he breathed what could only be a soft sigh of relief. He looked so different in that one split-second of relaxation, the tension drained away, and it suddenly hit Harry that the man was not nearly as repulsive as he had believed. It was Snape's harsh manner and eternal scowl that made him so unattractive after all.
In the next instant, the spell was shattered. Snape's eyes snapped open and his head jerked upward. He crossed his legs and folded his arms tightly around him, glowering at his surroundings indiscriminately, his posture having gone from slightly slumped to ramrod-straight. His sudden actions were in such contrast with the relaxed demeanor he had exhibited just moments ago, and it served to confuse Harry even further. Not that anything Snape ever did made sense, of course
but surely there was a reason for it? He seemed so uncomfortable, so defensive. Was Snape embarrassed by exhibiting a weakness? Was he uncomfortable with unbuttoning his clothing before an audience? Or could it be something else entirely? Harry's mind strained to grasp at a thought that itched at the back of his mind. McGonagall's observations of Snape's attire came back to him. Something didn't fit
only an utter moron would wear thick layers of black clothing when summer approached, and the Potions Master had proved himself a good deal more than just clever. Perhaps his discomfiture had more to do with the unfastening of the clothes themselves, and not just the presence of himself and the Transfiguration professor? He gave himself a mental shake. Snape was a tangled mess of double meanings and false clues. Who could say, save the man himself, what motivated him to do anything?
At this point Harry wanted to say something, anything, to erase the fiercely defensive look in Snape's eyes. The tense atmosphere inside the carriage was strangling him! He didn't care if Snape snapped at him, or gave him a detention for a week anything was better than this! Truth be told, he'd be glad to have points stripped from his house if it meant the return of the grumbling, ill-tempered Potions Master. Seeing Snape like this, off-balance and vulnerable, completely unnerved him. Erm, Professor Snape, he began hesitantly, quailing as he was pinned by the man's intense black eyes, I know you've made quite a few improvements to the Wolfsbane Potion, and Lupin is more than grateful for it, but
well, I don't think it tastes very good to him. It may seem like a petty complaint, but what good could a potion be if the drinker has trouble keeping it down?
Snape drawled in a deceptively calm tone, allowing the threatening undercurrent to build, am I to understand that my potion is not good enough for our dear ex-Professor Lupin? It is not bad enough that he and his unholy partner in crime continue to hang around the castle in a laughable effort to boost its wards, but he mocks my exhaustive efforts to save him from his own feral nature?
The look on McGonagall's face would have frozen lava. Severus! she said sharply, the commanding tone breaking into his rant. Perhaps something in her voice harkened back to his own school days, for it was enough for him to fall silent, resigning himself to a sulky glare.
Harry wriggled uncomfortably in his seat. Please, Professor, don't blame Professor Lupin for this! He *told* me not to say anything to you about this! Believe me, he's grateful beyond words. It's a blessing for him to keep his own mind when he's in werewolf form. But if the potion tastes half as bad as it smells
he grimaced. He has to take it fairly often
and you *did* say you were looking to improve upon it
An aggravated sigh was his response. Even Mister Longbottom could see the logic in creating a palatable potion. I was aware that the Wolfsbane Potion had a displeasing taste, but not to such an extent as you describe. You understand that flavor takes a backseat to more important aspects however, I have addressed most of the major flaws in the original design and can now afford to concentrate on the more aesthetic points. Harry's breath caught. Had Snape just admitted that he was right?! Unfortunately, sugar renders the potion inert, and other popular flavor enhancers, such as ginger and honey, will most likely paralyze anyone who consumes it. I'm afraid 'Professor' Lupin will have to be patient until an appropriate sweetener can be found. Well, it was certainly more than Harry could have hoped for. He felt a fierce pride burn inside him he had challenged Snape on behalf of one of his friends and won!
After a few minutes of idle conversation between Harry and Professor McGonagall, with only a random comment from Snape, the Transfiguration professor found herself staring out the window, admiring the lush greenery. I've always found Hogwarts to be quite beautiful in late springtime. When I leave the window open, my classroom is filled with the most pleasant scent of honeysuckle. Pity your potions don't smell half as pleasant, Severus, she said in a gently teasing tone, ready to engage her colleague's special brand of sarcastic wit.
Snape stared at her, slack-jawed, a faraway look in his eyes. She wondered if perhaps she had pushed too far after all, Severus could be touchy about the oddest things but he didn't seem angry, precisely. She had seen him in *that* state of mind plenty of times! His mouth moved, finally giving voice to one word, as if it had never heard that word spoken before. Honeysuckle, he breathed. Of *course*! How could I have not thought of it before? It just might work
if I adjusted the amount of wolfsbane in concert with
. His voice petered out, his mind already racing far ahead. In a dream state, he fumbled in his robes and withdrew a folded bit of blank parchment and a quill. Tapping the end briskly with his wand, he caused the tip to become filled with ink. He moved his crossed leg slightly, balancing the piece of parchment on it, bending over it studiously and beginning to scratch out notes at a furious rate. He paused now and then, running the top of the white plume across his lips thoughtfully, before resuming his task.
Harry watched the suddenly preoccupied professor with a bemused expression. McGonagall nodded in the man's direction. It seems that he has had some sort of brainstorm. It's safe to say that we will not hear from him for the remainder of our journey. He loses track of the rest of the world when he gets like this. The boy was more than content to make small talk with her about the OWLs, Quidditch, Transfiguration, and whatever topics crossed their minds. Harry was startled when the carriage ground to a stop in front of the large oak front doors of Hogwarts.
Here we are! McGonagall announced briskly, she and Harry preparing to disembark. Snape, however, remained oblivious to their surroundings, intent as ever on the parchment on his lap, which had nearly been completely covered in neat handwriting. Severus, she said gently, but the man did not move. Harry reached out to give him a quick nudge, but the woman quickly grabbed his wrist. Best not to do that. He doesn't react very well to touch, especially when he's absorbed in his work. She leaned over until her lips were near the Potion Master's ear. Severus! *Pay attention*, young man!
Harry bit his cheek to keep from grinning as Snape jumped at the words. What is it? he said irritably, annoyed both at the disturbance and his colleague's patronizing words to him.
Minerva's expression was smug. We're here, she said flatly.
Blink. Oh. He set aside his quill and parchment with notable reluctance and began swiftly buttoning up his shirt sleeves and collar. A quick glance at his clothing assured him that everything was once again in place, but he smoothed down his shirt front just to be on the safe side. Grabbing his purchases and his notes, he swept out of the carriage and across the walkway to the castle entrance, sending students scattering out of his way. Harry and Professor McGonagall stood watching his departure. He didn't say so much as goodbye, he said wonderingly.
He rarely does, she confirmed.
Harry looked up from his position on the floor, rubbing Neville's back consolingly, to see his beloved godfather looming above him. It's Snape, he growled. He practically tore Neville to pieces in class today for melting another cauldron. Can't he see that it's his own fault? Neville wouldn't make so many mistakes if Snape didn't frighten him so much! A fresh bout of sobbing tore from the hapless boy.
Sirius folded his protesting joints, sore after years of disuse, until he was sitting next to Neville Longbottom. He placed a strong hand on the boy's shoulder, and Harry felt a surge of pride as his friend gazed upon the man with a grateful look. He was quite glad that others were starting to see his godfather for the man he truly was, instead of the mad murder that Pettigrew had made him out to be. Although the Ministry had finally acquitted him of any wrongdoing, the world at large seemed to hold him in suspicion. It was beyond good to have him and Lupin coming by the castle from time to time, and quite openly winning the support of the students, though he knew deep down that the visits boded nothing but ill, for their preparations were to counter any advance made by the Dark Lord.
Don't you mind that greasy old git! Sirius said as soothingly as he could, feeling a bit out of practice. Neville's eyes grew wide at the blatant insult. I went to school with him, and believe me, he's as much of a slimeball now as he was back then. Nobody liked him except the Slytherins, and even they didn't want to have much to do with him until Sixth Year. He may have been brilliant in potions, but he couldn't fly a broomstick to save his life. Got the shakes every time he went near one! So much for pureblood wizards, eh? His laugh was sardonic, causing both boys to look at him with a bit of discomfort. And he wasn't anything special in Transfigurations, either. The only reason he got such high marks on his NEWTs was because he had his gang of Slytherins tutoring him. Here's something that should help, Neville. Next time he starts in on you, just picture him with pink hair and Gryffindor Quidditch robes. He winked at Harry. That was one of James' better pranks!
That forced a shaky laugh from Neville, who found that mental image almost as amusing as the boggart-Snape in his grandmother's dress. S-so he was mean to everyone when he was in school too?
Sirius nodded. He'd hex anyone who came within a foot of him! Not that anyone wanted to get that close, mind you. He was just as greasy back then, too. You could probably oil all the suits of armor in Hogwarts by wringing out his hair! They all wrinkled their noses at that thought. He used to wear it in a ponytail that stretched halfway down his back. Thank Merlin he's cut it since then, otherwise the amount of grease would probably weigh down his entire head.
He suddenly frowned. Oh, I almost forgot! Harry, I've been meaning to give this to you. He held out a rather dog-eared book. It's one of the few possessions I managed to regain. Thought you'd like to have a look at it.
Harry took it and turned it over in his hands, studying it thoughtfully. It's a yearbook! he exclaimed. Wow! I didn't know Hogwarts made these.
I think they stopped during Voldemort's reign. Wasn't very much worth celebrating back then, and I guess the yearbook became rather frivolous. Still, it's a shame they haven't brought it back. Sirius sighed. Harry made a mental note to speak to Hermione. She'd know how to go about such a task, but then again, judging from SPEW, she tended to get carried away from time to time.
He found himself caressing the book's cover, tracing the large numbers of 1978 emblazoned on the front, eager to dive in and see the young faces of his parents once more. Hagrid had given him such a marvelous gift of photos of his parents, but he knew those by heart. Seeing some fresh ones would be close to nirvana. Um, are you going to be okay, Neville? he said hesitantly. If you don't mind, I'd like to go look at this by myself. It's rather private.
Neville gave him an understanding smile, drying his tears on a handkerchief. You go ahead, Harry, he said in a firm voice. I'm feeling lots better. See you later tonight! He pushed himself up and wandered off the hall. Sirius gave him a nod and headed off as well. Harry could not suppress a wave of relief. He couldn't bear sharing something so intensely personal with them, as much as he cared about them. He hurried off to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, knowing that no one save him, Ron and Hermione had ever been crazy enough to disturb her haunt. Poking his head in, he noticed that the usual sobbing was absent. 'Must be wandering about the pipes somewhere,' he thought idly, seating himself inside a stall. He opened the book and thumbed the pages with trembling fingers. His lips formed into a sad smile as he beheld his parents in their Seventh Year, so close to graduation, preparing to take their place in the world as full-fledged adults. Here was James transfiguring a dog into a table, his brown eyes shining with triumph. Another page showed Lily executing a complicated-looking charm, her brow furrowed in concentration. James looked on in the background, his expression undeniably proud. He jumped and nearly dropped the book when he turned the page to find a solemn-faced boy bent over a cauldron, its contents roiling ominously. His black hair obscured his face, and he impatiently swept it back behind his ears before turning back to stir the potion before him. Harry's heart lurched in his chest, and he hastily turned the page, not wanting to let the image of a younger Snape ruin his mood. And yet the scowling Slytherin continued to crop up here and there. There was a photo of James and Severus glaring at each other from behind outstretched wands, poised in traditional dueling positions. A notation mentioned that Snape had been vice-president of the dueling club that year. Harry had had the occasion to view Snape's dueling skills and wasn't at all eager to be on the business end.
Towards the back of the book, Harry discovered perhaps the best picture he could have asked for. There were photos of the graduating class separated by their Houses. His eyes were riveted on the Gryffindor graduates. There were a few faces he did not recognize, and a quick glance at the captions showed that they were no one of consequence. A youthful Sirius grinned broadly and waved at Harry until it seemed his arm would fall off. It was quite a shock to see how healthy and tanned he had been back then. Harry felt a rush of anger towards the shyly grinning Peter, knowing that it was because of him that his godfather had lost twelve years of his life and was still fighting to regain his spirits and his health, not to mention how he had betrayed Harry's father and mother. Remus pumped his fist in the air triumphantly. James and Lily stood in the center of the picture, arms around each other's waists, sneaking affectionate looks from time to time. Harry noticed that they wore black dress robes with a Gryffindor-red sash. However, they each sported a mantle of sorts that seemed to differ. Sirius, James, Remus and Peter wore blue mantles that he assumed were for Transfiguration, while Lily's mantle was green for Charms. Their mantles had a symbol or two painted on them, which were probably for some kind of academic achievement. Several were no doubt for Quidditch. Harry was pleased to note that his mother had the most honors out of the group. He sniffled slightly and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, becoming choked up with emotion. He missed them so much it made him ache! He had never even gotten to know them properly! It was so good to have Remus and Sirius around to tell him stories, but it could never truly replace the loss that he had suffered. He flipped the page over, no longer able to bear the cheerful smile, knowing that several years after that photo was taken, two of their group would be dead, one would be thrown in Azkaban, and one would turn traitor. Not a very happy ending, was it?
The photo on the next page chased all thoughts of the Marauders from his mind. He stared numbly at the graduating Slytherin class, recognizing more faces than he had expected, because the next generation was at this school at this very moment. There were others that he did not recognize at all, glancing down at the text to identify them. He knew their names far too well, from Sirius' slighting remarks about them, and from Voldemort's assembling of his faithful Death Eaters after he had regained his body. Avery, Rosier, Wilkes, Crabbe, Goyle
but it was the two young men in the center that had him so dumbfounded. From that moment frozen in time, eighteen-year-old Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy beamed triumphantly, arms flung around each other's shoulders, looking every bit as chummy as the Marauders had been. Snape's mantle was purple, obviously denoting his Potions studies. Its color was barely discernable, however, under the countless symbols and swirls of academic achievement. One in particular caught his eye. It was one that Hermione had drawn for him, one that she hoped with all her heart to earn. Valedictorian. Top marks in the entire graduating class.
My God! he breathed, watching a grinning Lucius slap Severus on the back. The dark-haired boy rewarded him with a smirk that was probably as close to a real smile as he would ever get. Gavin Crabbe gave the long black ponytail a strong tug, and Severus shot him an irritated glare. Crabbe merely grinned in return, not seeming intimidated in the least. Probably was used to it after seven years with the git. This explains *so* much! No wonder Snape favored Draco; he had been best friends with his father in school! And he had been mates with the boys who had spawned those morons Crabbe and Goyle as well. How stupid of him not to have seen it before! He had *known* that Snape had gone to Hogwarts as a youth (but seeing him so young was another thing entirely!), but it had never registered that he might have friends from that time as well as childhood enemies. A wave of outrage swept through him, leaving him shaking. How typical of Snape to coddle the second generation of Slytherins while slighting him because of who his father was! He slammed the book shut, no longer able to bear the sight of Snape and Malfoy together. The whole thing made his stomach turn. Death Eaters, the whole lot of them. His jaw clenched in outrage. He could not bear to look at the pictures one moment longer, knowing the fate of all the smiling, beaming faces inside, Slytherin and Gryffindor alike. For too many of them, there was no such thing as a happy ending.
Snape stalked into the staffroom crossly, taking his usual seat at Dumbledore's left-hand side, sparing a curt nod to McGonagall, who sat across him at Dumbledore's right. He was tired, his nerves were frayed, and he was hardly in the mood for the petty annoyances of a staff meeting. Especially not since he needed all his attention focused on the recent rash of Death Eater activity. He'd been summoned nearly three times this week alone and was thus quite on-edge. Voldemort had most unfortunately kept him informed of only bits and pieces of whatever plan was brewing in that dark mind of his. It was a reminder of just how precarious his position had become among the Death Eaters. Dammit, he needed to know what was going on! His hands curled into fists, twisting the black cloth of his robe in frustration.
Scowling at nothing in particular, hoping that his disagreeable expression would keep idle chatter to a minimum (not that it seemed to have much of an effect on his colleagues they seemed to have developed a tolerance to it), he reached for the tea kettle and poured himself a cup. The heated liquid eased its way down its throat to pool in his stomach, which cramped slightly, reminding him that he had skipped both breakfast and had barely eaten more than a forkful of lunch. He nibbled absently at a biscuit and then set it aside, his stomach no more happy with this sustenance than with the lack of food. How could he eat when his stomach was tied in knots?
He set down his teacup in resignation, hoping that the beverage would be enough to sustain him until dinnertime. Albus shuffled a few papers in his peripheral vision, a signal that he was preparing to begin. He forced back a sigh. The sooner that they got started, the sooner he could retreat to the dungeons and brace himself for the next Summoning. It was not far off, he was sure.
Snape jumped in surprise as the cup was snatched from his grasp and flew across the table, into the waiting hands of the thin woman seated at the far end, weighted down with numerous necklaces and bracelets, her spectacles giving her an insect-like appearance. Professor Trelawney peered at the bottom of his teacup, studying the remaining tea leaves intently. Oh my! she gasped softly. How tragic
a most bleak prediction indeed
The sallow man allowed his lips to curve into a sinister smile. I've got a prediction for you, Trelawney, he purred with a slight hint of malice. He saw McGonagall's lips twitch in a movement suspiciously like a smirk.
The Divination professor took no notice of her colleague's insult. She swirled the cup in circles, studying the new pattern that the tea leaves formed. Yes, it is quite clear
the signs are unmistakable
. She fixed the Potions Master with a teary gaze. Severus, you must prepare yourself for the worst.
He leapt to his face, his features twisted in a snarl of fury. You old bat! How *dare* you?! he cried, lunging across the table. It was all Professor Vector could do to hold him back. The assembled teachers seemed astonished at his reaction. They were all quite used to Snape's fits of temper, but this display of rage was extreme, even for him. Snape was even more on edge than usual, and the reason was obvious. Trelawney was provoking him at her own peril.
Severus! Sybil! Dumbledore's voice was calm, but there was an undercurrent of steel that made them both freeze. There is no need for such confrontation. Kindly take your seats; we are ready to begin. They both sat down, looking abashed. Snape stared sullenly at his hands folded in his lap. Why was it, after teaching at the school for ten years, that the Headmaster could still make him feel like a first-year hauled in for a scolding for casting hexes?
He listened with only half an ear as Dumbledore began to speak, his mind awhirl with the events of the past few weeks. Slight revisions to next year's class schedule, possible activities to foster inter-House camaraderie (Snape snorted aloud at that -- nothing short of a strong psychotropic drug would persuade Slytherins and Gryffindors to socialize)
. In a way he was relieved that the meeting was so mundane. His concentration was strained to the max as it was.
His meandering thoughts were yanked viciously back to the present as his left forearm tingled, then burst into a flame of agony. He hissed softly, pressing the Mark against his chest and curling over slightly, cradling the throbbing arm. He pressed his lips together firmly until they turned white, determined to keep from making another sound. Not now! Please, not here!
Professor McGonagall looked up in surprise at the soft sound. Her stern expression smoothed into an odd combination of sympathy and concern. The man across from her was hunched over in obvious pain, his eyes squeezed shut, his mouth forming a silent plea of no. In that moment he looked eerily like the sullen, awkward yet brilliant student that had skulked around the halls of Hogwarts a generation ago. For a single heartbeat he looked so young and vulnerable, and her heart went out to him, despite her misgivings. She glared accusingly at the rest of the teaching staff, who were all gaping at the suffering man with nervous expressions, the closest moving their chairs back. None wanted to be close to the power of Voldemort which summoned him. A few eyed him with ill-disguised distrust. Hot rage filled her to the throat. Couldn't they see that he was just a pawn in a greater game? They'd never seen him crawl back to Albus after a Summoning. She had borne accidental witness to such a scene only once, but it was enough to put all doubts of his allegiance from her mind.
Severus jumped as a gentle hand touched his arm, pulling it carefully away from his chest where he had kept it pressed to assuage the pain. Albus Dumbledore pierced him with an inscrutable look, his hands unfastening the cufflink and rolling up the sleeve to expose the Dark Mark, which was a blazing black against the porcelain-white skin. Faint gasps of horror reached Snape's ears, but he was past caring. A slightly wrinkled yet firm hand wrapped around the mark, and immediately the pain dimmed as if someone had flipped a switch. He could breathe, he could think
he realized that Dumbledore was eyeing him with concern, and his lips were moving
Severus, are you all right? He frowned, hesitating. If you feel you cannot
Snape leapt to his feet, upsetting his chair onto the floor and forcing the old wizard to release his throbbing arm. His demeanor was once again tense and guarded. I I must go, he stammered slightly. I dare not be late. With a brisk flare of black, he stalked through the door and was gone, leaving the rest of the Hogwarts staff to stare after him uneasily.
* * * * *
And I never really sleep anymore
And I always get those dangerous dreams
And I never get a minute of peace
And I gotta wonder what it means
-- It Just Won't Quit -- Meatloaf
Harry pushed open the portrait of the Fat Lady slowly, trying to make the least amount of noise possible. He clutched his Invisibility Cloak tightly around him as he made his way silently through the darkened castle corridors. His nights were getting more and more sleepless as the week wore on. His dreams were filled with half-formed horrors that terrified him. He had not had any clear visions, as he'd had in the past, but his nightmares were enough to keep him from feeling properly rested. And the violent storm that raged outside, punctuated by stark bursts of lightning and deafening claps of thunder, assured him a sleepless night.
He didn't need the vision/nightmares to know that Death Eater activity had been sharply accelerated. Snape's repeated absences were enough of a hint for him. The caustic professor had explained them away to the rest of the class as an urgent project presented by the Ministry, but Harry doubted that many were convinced. He couldn't help but wonder just how many people knew of Snape's shady past.
He vigorously quashed a vague feeling of worry for the Potions professor. Madame Pomfrey had to take over his classes for the afternoon, and the man had not made an appearance in the Great Hall for dinner. Not necessarily cause for alarm
certainly someone as ornery as Snape could look after himself
but Harry could not help but feel concerned. He simply couldn't see how Snape could stand to infiltrate that den of snakes time after time
that is, if Snape was really spying in the first place. A tiny part of him whispered that no one was that good.
He crept towards the Astronomy Tower, taking care to avoid some creaky floorboards. Unlike most of his late-night forays, all he really wanted to do tonight was to find a bit of privacy and quiet. Pity that Filch would never see it that way. He'd have a weeks' worth of detention if he were caught. Not to mention what Snape would do to him
He clapped a hand over his mouth to smother a gasp as the object of his ruminations came into view. Harry pressed himself against the wall, standing at the top of the steps of the Astronomy tower, willing his knees to stop shaking. Seeing Snape so abruptly after having such conflicted thoughts about him was quite disconcerting. What was he doing out at such an awful hour? Surely he wasn't out to strike house points from rebellious students out of bed! The man stood with his back to the door, staring sightlessly across the grounds. Harry could just see his profile, and the contemplative expression took him by surprise. He would have thought that the sneer was permanently stamped on that face. Snape's hair was slicked to his head by the driving rain, and his robes were plastered to a body that was too thin. A goblet was clutched in one long-fingered hand, which was slowly lifted to pale lips. Harry recognized the contents with a start Dreamless Sleep potion! A small part of him was pleased that *something* had sunk in from Potions class. It seemed that he wasn't the only one having difficulty sleeping these days. If his dreams were bad, he'd shudder to even think about what Snape's were like.
What are you doing out there?!
The cross words, spoken from directly next to him, made Harry jump. Filch! He held his breath, realizing after a paralyzing second that the caretaker was not addressing him at all.