The Sugar Quill
Author: Three Sickles Short (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sacked!  Chapter: default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JKR

Disclaimer:  Everything belongs to JKR.  I intend no copyright violation.


Author’s Note:  This probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read “First Lessons, Last Straws,” Chapter 9 of my fifth-year fic.  Caveat lector.





            “…and the addition of cocoa powder gives the draught some effects similar to the effects of chocolate on the victim of an encounter with Dementors.  Now, who can tell me what—”  Snape broke off and glared at the door, on which someone had just knocked.  “Enter,” he called, annoyed.  His annoyance increased when he saw that it was Potter.  “Get out of here, Potter,” he commanded.  When Potter started to whinging about wanting to apologize, Snape interrupted with a repeat of his command.  “I said for you to get out, Potter; if I have to tell you again, you will be in even more trouble than you already are.”  Teach the infernal brat some manners.  Did he think he could just waltz in and say, “Sorry,” and that would be enough to keep him out of trouble? 

            Potter turned to leave, but, before he could, the Headmaster appeared in the doorway.  He held Snape’s gaze for a moment and then said evenly, “I need to speak with you, Severus.” 

            Snape felt a twinge of apprehension; Dumbledore never interrupted a class.  He forced himself to hold eye contact with Dumbledore as he pointed out, “I am teaching at the moment, Headmaster.”  Why was he stalling, he wondered?  Why did that look in the Headmaster’s eyes always make him feel like a student in for punishment?

            “Only half a class, by the look of things,” Professor Dumbledore observed.  He stepped around Potter, and Snape noticed that he laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder as he passed.  Snape felt a stab of jealousy, remembering the many times that he had seen that hand on the boy’s father’s shoulder.  After all these years, was Dumbledore still here to take Potter’s side?

            The Headmaster arrived at Snape’s desk and said, very quietly, “If you do not dismiss your class on your own, Severus, or I will be forced to do so myself, and I think that might be rather awkward for you.”  Then he took a step backward and stood a bit behind Snape, waiting.

            What was happening?  It was no more common for Dumbledore to pull rank like this than it was for him. . . well, to interrupt a class.  Something major must be happening.  “You are dismissed,” Snape said.  When the Slytherins stared at him in confusion, he waved a hand impatiently in the direction of the door and repeated, “Dismissed.”  Potter, who was still standing near the doorway, scurried out.  After they had gathered their books, the students from Snape’s House exited as well, and Snape was left alone with the Headmaster. 

            “Mr. Potter tells me that the two of you had a bit of a dispute, Severus,” the Headmaster said in that same deceptively even tone.

            Snape was unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice when he replied, “Did you interrupt my class to discuss him?” 

            “I’d like to hear your version of the story,” Dumbledore said, ignoring Snape’s question.

            Snape sighed; if Dumbledore wanted to play games, he supposed he’d have to play.  “Potter said something very insulting to me and stormed out, provoking a mass exodus of his housemates, which is why I was only teaching half the usual number of students when you arrived.”   

            The Headmaster was watching him with that same too-even look.  “Yes, Mr. Potter and I covered the part where he told you to grow up.  What we didn’t cover is the part that comes before.  What did you say to him immediately before he left the room?”

            Snape smothered a rush of fury; how dare Potter repeat his impertinent remark to Dumbledore, and how dare Dumbledore treat it in so offhand a manner?  He concentrated on keeping his voice calm as he answered the Headmaster’s question.  “I think I said something about his study habits,” he hedged.

            “What were your exact words?”

            “I-  I don’t remember,” Snape said, hating himself for stammering.  He had never been good at lying to Dumbledore; he could lie to anyone else without a hitch, but lying to Dumbledore, even about something as insignificant as Potter, was beyond his abilities.

            “Try,” the Headmaster said firmly.

            Snape sighed.  Better get this over with.  “I think it was something like, ‘Nice of you to prepare for class for once, Potter.’”  He stopped, hoping that the Headmaster wouldn’t ask him to continue.

            This hope was in vain.  “Is that all, or was there more?” Dumbledore asked.

            “And then I said something like, ‘Is this a fluke, or have you finally realised that even celebrities need to open their textbooks once in a while?’  And then, instead of giving me a civil answer-”

            “A civil answer,” Dumbledore interrupted.  “Do you think that your remark deserved a civil answer?”  There was an edge of anger beneath the evenness of his voice now, and Snape knew that he was in big trouble.  “Do you, Severus?”

            Snape looked at the floor for a moment; then he squared his shoulders and forced himself to look Dumbledore in the eye; if he wanted to take Potter’s side, that was fine, but Snape wasn’t going to make it easy for him.  “Anything I say to him requires a civil answer.  I am his teacher, and it is his job to treat me with courtesy and respect.”

            “And what about your job, Severus?”

            “What about it?”  He knew that he was being obstinate, that he was just making things worse for himself, but he couldn’t help it.  “My job is to try to correct the faults of my students, and Potter has many, many faults.” 

            “Is preparing for class a fault?”  The Headmaster waited.  “Is it?”

            Snape sighed again and replied, “No.”

            “Then why, when he was prepared for class—as a student should be—did you insult him and treat him as if he had done something wrong?”  Dumbledore waited several moments for Snape to reply.  “No answer, Severus?” 

            Finally, Snape replied, “The flaw that I was working to correct is his overweening ego.”

            “And how is coming to class prepared evidence of an overweening ego?”

            Snape was quiet for a moment, and then he burst out, “He thinks he can just strut around here-”

            “You aren’t answering my question, Severus.” 

            That was twice that the Headmaster had interrupted him.  This was not a good sign.  “That particular action was not evidence of his overweening ego.  However-”

            “However, you chose to insult him anyway.  Because you are the teacher and he is the student, and therefore you hold some authority over him, you chose to abuse your power simply because you can.”  Dumbledore let that statement hang in the air for a moment; then, he continued, the anger now clear in his voice, “I gleaned from my conversation with Mr. Potter that your rudeness to him today was not an isolated event.  Because he is honorable and does not like to carry tales about people, he did not say all that I believe he could have about your behaviour toward him.  However, I was still able to deduce that your habitual conduct toward him has been inexcusable.  You have violated the teacher’s sacred duty to treat all of his students equally and with respect.  I do not know when I have been more disappointed in you.”  He paused for a moment and took a steadying breath.  “Do you have anything to say in defence of your behaviour?” 

            Snape squirmed under Dumbledore’s piercing gaze.  He mentally ran through a few replies, and they all sounded lame, even to him.  Finally, he replied, “No, Headmaster.”

            The Headmaster nodded slowly.  “I see.”  He waited for a moment before continuing, “I am too angry to deal fairly with you now.  Tonight, when dinner is over, you will come to my office, and we will discuss … conditions.  I will see you then.”  Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left the room, leaving Snape alone.

            Snape sat down in his desk chair and put his head in his hands.  This was bad.  This was very bad.  The way that Dumbledore had said “conditions” had sounded extremely ominous.  Bloody Potter.

            The sound of a small herd of elephants coming down the dungeon stairs signalled the arrival of the next class.  Snape mentally pulled himself together and rose to face yet another bunch of dunderheads.




            After a lovely dinner that he had barely touched, Snape made his solitary way toward the Headmaster’s office.  He was feeling, though he never would have admitted it, very nervous, and reluctance slowed his usual sweeping stride to a more sedate pace.  In spite of his dawdling, he arrived at the office all too soon for his taste.  After muttering the password (“Canary Cream” [bloody Weasley twins]), he climbed the stairs and knocked at Dumbledore’s door.

            “Come in,” the Headmaster called, and Snape obeyed.  “Severus.  Have a seat.”  Dumbledore’s voice seemed devoid of its customary warmth, and Snape’s feelings of apprehension increased.  Once he was settled in his chair, the Headmaster didn’t speak; he just sat, searching Snape’s eyes with his own blue ones.  Snape forced himself not to look away.  Then, abruptly, Dumbledore broke the silence.  “I cannot fire you.”

            Snape’s world reeled.  For Dumbledore to say, “I cannot fire you,” meant that he had been considering the possibility, and that was a worse prospect than Snape could have imagined.  What terrible thing had Dumbledore decided on instead?  He sat, numb, waiting to hear his fate.

            “I cannot fire you,” Dumbledore repeated, “because Hogwarts is the only place where you are safe from Voldemort and his minions.  Your mistakes have been grave, but they have not been so grave that I will send you to your death.  You will remain at Hogwarts.  However, given what I have learned, I cannot allow you to remain in the classroom.  You have done a serious disservice to all of your students, and I cannot allow that to continue.  Therefore, I am relieving you of your classroom duties and of your position as Head of Slytherin House.”

            Snape’s stomach dropped.  He was glad that he hadn’t eaten much dinner; he knew that, if he had, he might have been sick.  The lack of classroom duties was a blow to his ego, but, deep down, he knew that he’d be happier out of the classroom than in it; he had never really liked teaching.  But the loss of his Headship cut deeply.  “The Slytherins need me,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound as foolish as he thought he probably did.

            “What they need, Severus, is someone who will attempt to curb their excesses instead of indulging them.  Someone who will treat them fairly rather than allowing them to misbehave and feel no consequences for that misbehaviour.  I watched your last class this afternoon-” 

            “You spied on me!” Snape interrupted angrily.

            Dumbledore looked at him for a moment in a way that made Snape feel very small.  Finally, he replied, “Is it ‘spying’ for a Headmaster to monitor what goes on in his employees’ classrooms?”

            “No, Headmaster,” Snape said.  He added, a bit stiffly, “I apologise for my outburst.  Please continue.”

            “Thank you.  When I watched that class—the seventh-year Gryffindors and Slytherins—I was very disturbed by what I saw.  I observed Tobias Rosenfeld tampering with the ingredients belonging to Fred Weasley and Angelina Johnson.  I saw your eyes take in Mr. Rosenfeld’s actions, Severus, and I saw you ignore them.  When Miss Johnson asked Mr. Rosenfeld to leave them alone, you yelled at Miss Johnson for talking in class and took points from her.  And then, when the Potion belonging to Miss Johnson and Mr. Weasley failed to work—as, of course, you knew it would fail, since it lacked the right combination of ingredients—you punished them and berated them as though the failure were their fault.  Not a word to Mr. Rosenfeld; no acknowledgment of his role in the events.  This is not the treatment that any of the students need.  Your unfairness to Miss Johnson and Mr. Weasley is obvious, but, given your habitual treatment of the students in Gryffindor House, it does not surprise me.  What troubles me more is your unfairness to Mr. Rosenfeld.  When a student sabotages his fellows and prevents them from learning, he needs to be corrected.  He needs to be told that such behaviour is not acceptable.  You did not do this, Severus.  I suspect that you never do if the offender comes from your own House.  I looked back today, Severus, over the records of House points given and taken.  I noted that, in all your years here, you have never taken a single point from a Slytherin student.  How do you account for that fact?”

            Dumbledore waited for his reply.  Snape opened his mouth to answer and then shut it again almost immediately; there was really nothing to say.  If he protested that he had other ways of dealing with misbehaviour in his House, Dumbledore would ask what those ways were, and he would have no answer.  He let his narrow shoulders slump a bit, demoralised, and shook his head. 

            “You have no justification for what looks like blatant favoritism?” Dumbledore asked, sounding, if possible, even more resigned.

            Snape thought.  He had his reasons; he just wasn’t sure that he would be able to put them into words.  He decided to try; his words came haltingly, and he tried not to look at Dumbledore, the sight of whose disappointed face interfered with Snape’s train of thought.  “As Head of a Hogwarts House, my first duty, my first line of obligations is to the students in my House.  It is my job to … to protect them, to foster their growth.  This is particularly important for the students in Slytherin House.  Slytherin students often feel that all of the other teachers are against them, that they have a reputation for … well, for evil, and that, no matter what they do, they won’t be able to overcome that reputation.  They need to be able to feel that they have an ally on the staff.  As their Head of House, I need to be that ally.  If I were to take points from them and to chastise them, they would think that I, like all of the other teachers, was against them.  They would come to believe that they had no allies on the staff, and they would stop coming to me for guidance.  They would have only their parents and their fellow students to rely on for help with … dilemmas.  And Slytherin students are particularly prone to dilemmas with which the guidance of an adult who is not a parent can prove crucial.”  He mentally added, As I, of all people, should know, but he didn’t say it out loud.  He didn’t have to; even in his anger, Dumbledore would bear Snape’s past in mind, and he would understand.  Between them, some things didn’t need to be said aloud.  He raised his face to meet Dumbledore’s eyes and lifted his hands in a what-else-can-I-say gesture.  “Do you see?”

            Slowly, the Headmaster nodded.  “I do see, Severus, and I see that your actions toward your own House, though misguided, have been well-meant.  I do not share your views about the proper role for a Head of House, but I can see some merit to them in spite of my disagreement, particularly in the case of Slytherin House.”  He paused and thought for a moment.  Then, appearing to come to a decision, he continued, “Therefore, you will not be relieved completely of your duties as Head of House.  However, I will appoint for you what we will call to the students a Co-Head.  In reality, this person will be what we might call a Disciplinary Head.  This way, you can remain the ally that you wish to be, but the students can still be corrected and improved in the ways that I believe are necessary for their development into the kinds of wizards that Hogwarts tries to produce.”

            Snape nodded.  He didn’t like the idea of sharing his Headship duties with anyone else, but it was the best that he could hope for.  “Who will be my Co-Head?” he asked.

            “I’d like to make it someone who was a Slytherin as a student,” said Dumbledore.  Snape nodded vigorously.  “That leaves only Professors Grubbly-Plank and Vector.” 

            “Vector,” Snape said immediately.  He could work with Tangentia Vector, a strict but fair woman whose personal reserve meshed nicely with Snape’s own; Ursula Grubbly-Plank, however, showed obvious favoritism to female students and was a busy-body to boot.  And she wasn’t even a full-time staff member.  And nor will you be now, said a little voice in the back of Snape’s mind, and he winced inwardly.

            “I will ask Tangentia first,” Dumbledore agreed, “and, if she accepts the position, the two of you will work together—contingent, of course, on some improvement in your behaviour.  Heads of House are not exempt from the rules of civility to students outside their Houses.  Do I make myself clear?” 

            Snape scowled, but he nodded; he wasn’t going to simper over Precious Potter even to keep his Headship, but, now that he would no be longer teaching, there was no need for him to be around the vexatious brat at all. 

            “Very good.  One further condition:  You may not give points to students in Slytherin, and you may not take points from students in any House except Slytherin.  If you observe behaviour that you think warrants taking House points, you will report to the students’ Head of House, who will deal with the matter.” 

            The Headmaster paused to let Snape comment.  As he had nothing to say to this condition, Snape kept silent.  Dumbledore continued.  “Now, on to the matters of what to tell the students and what you will be doing during your sabbatical from classroom duties.  You have considered writing a Potions textbook someday, have you not?”  Snape nodded.  “I think now is the time to undertake that project.  Jigger’s book is the standard text in the field, and, though it’s still quite good, it is a bit out of date, particularly given the advancements in the area of Healing—an area that will, I fear, be of particular importance in the days to come.” 

            The Headmaster looked grave, and Snape recalled that Potter had said virtually the same thing in class today.  His lip curled in a faint sneer.  How nice to see the Chosen One thinking like his protector.  He gave himself a mental shake and refocussed on what Dumbledore was saying.

            “…include some of the Stealth and Reconnaissance Potions, if the appropriate Ministry divisions will agree to it.  I could probably even arrange a Ministry grant.  What do you think?”

            Snape considered for a moment.  “I have no objection.  But it will seem highly irregular for me to begin this job in the middle of the year; aren’t the students likely to suspect…?”

            “The students, Severus, will suspect what they wish to suspect.  It is perfectly reasonable that you might realise, rather suddenly, that the current world situation requires immediate action on your part—action of the most helpful kind that you can take.  Unless, of course, you would prefer that I tell the students that your sabbatical is not entirely voluntary….”

            Feeling rather powerless, Snape shook his head.  “I suppose your explanation is best.”  He added, a touch resentfully, “I don’t like it, though.  I don’t like being put into a position where I have no choice in the matter.”

            “No one does.  But such situations sometimes occur when one’s previous choices have been unwise.”  The Headmaster’s gaze softened a bit, and he added, “It won’t be so bad, Severus.  I think you will enjoy writing and research more than you have enjoyed teaching.”

            Snape hesitated, but he finally ventured to ask, “For how long will I be …”  Sacked?  Demoted?  Forced out?  He finally settled on “… relieved of my classroom duties?”  He hated the euphemism, but he could think of no better way to put it.

            Whether the witty rejoinder Until you can grow up entered the Headmaster’s head, your humble author would not presume to say.  She will merely note that Dumbledore is renowned for having powers that he is too noble to use.  If such a thought did make its way into Dumbledore’s unfathomable mind, that is where it stayed, for his reply was a customarily cryptic, “Until I determine that you are ready to return.” 

            Counting this one, it was three years until Precious Potter would leave school, and Snape wondered whether Dumbledore would ever let him back into the classroom with his detestable golden boy.  He grimaced.

            “Do you have any further questions?” the Headmaster asked.

            “Who will take my place as Potions Master?”

            “I haven’t decided for certain.  There are several possibilities, but I haven’t spoken with any of them yet, and, in such times as these, I fear that many people will be otherwise engaged.  Until I find someone, I and a few of the other Professors will cover your classes.”

            Snape nodded.  He didn’t dare to ask who the “possibilities” were; he suspected that he probably didn’t want to know.  There were few experts in the field, and most of them were privately employed, so he doubted that the replacement would be anyone whom he would be able to regard with respect.  Better not to know which fools Dumbledore had in mind.

            “Anything else?”

            “No, Headmaster.”

            “Then that will be all.”  The Headmaster stood.  “Goodnight, Severus.”

            “Goodnight.”  Snape left the Headmaster’s office to return to the dungeons that had long been his private domain—dungeons that he would now have to share with someone else.  He was reeling.  For the first time in a very long time, he reached to the very back of his private stores, found the bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion, and took a long drink.  Normally, he considered sleeping potions a crutch, a sign of weakness.  Tonight….

            He didn’t have time to finish his thought about tonight.  Dreamless Sleep potion works very quickly.  He collapsed into his bed and gave himself over to blissful oblivion.

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