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.
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?
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.”
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?
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?
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.
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.
Potter tells me that the two of you had a bit of a dispute, Severus,” the
Headmaster said in that same deceptively even tone.
was unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice when he replied, “Did you
interrupt my class to discuss him?”
like to hear your version of the story,” Dumbledore said, ignoring Snape’s
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.”
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?”
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.
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
the Headmaster said firmly.
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.
hope was in vain. “Is that all, or was
there more?” Dumbledore asked.
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
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?”
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.”
what about your job, Severus?”
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.”
preparing for class a fault?” The
Headmaster waited. “Is it?”
sighed again and replied, “No.”
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?”
Snape replied, “The flaw that I was working to correct is his overweening ego.”
how is coming to class prepared evidence of an overweening ego?”
was quiet for a moment, and then he burst out, “He thinks he can just strut
aren’t answering my question, Severus.”
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-”
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?”
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 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.
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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-”
spied on me!” Snape interrupted angrily.
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?”
Headmaster,” Snape said. He added, a bit
stiffly, “I apologise for my outburst.
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?”
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
have no justification for what looks like blatant favoritism?” Dumbledore
asked, sounding, if possible, even more resigned.
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?”
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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
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
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?”
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…?”
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….”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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
you have any further questions?” the Headmaster asked.
will take my place as Potions Master?”
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.”
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
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….
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.