The Sugar Quill
Author: Ransom (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dark Chrysalis  Chapter: Chapter Two: The New Rules
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Chapter Two: The New Rules

Chapter Two: The New Rules

 

            The following weekend, Hogwarts students invaded Hogsmeade in droves. Snape decided to get away from the castle for a few hours (his nightly excursions to the mirror room were driving him slowly mad as the mirror refused him any further information – just replaying the same scene over and over again). He took great pains to avoid the very appearance of taking Peter up on his offer and explored the shops and byways alone.  He was spotted by James and Sirius a couple times. They smiled and waved but made no concerted efforts to get Snape to join them.   Snape made a brief stop at Honeyduke’s where he was always cautious to buy his favorite confectionary offerings in small portions so as not to appear overly-enthused. His last stop was to be the Three Broomsticks, where he would find a quiet corner table and enjoy a couple Butterbeers. 

Knowing that the Marauders were already there, however, Snape thought it best to stroll around the village a bit…until they left.  It’s THEY who should feel awkward!  He thought as he dragged his feet past Zonko’s (he wouldn’t be caught dead inside, of course).  After a while, James, Sirius, Peter and Remus left the Three Broomsticks, looking like they had had the time of their lives. Snape lingered for a moment and then casually strolled into the tavern, ordered up a Butterbeer and had a seat at his usual corner table.

            Snape’s thoughts remained fixed on the mirror as he nursed his Butterbeer. He kept playing the scene over and over in his mind, searching for some belated clue, some goal, something to justify running off into the Forbidden Forest sight unseen. He was so deeply entranced in thought that he didn’t even notice the hooded figure standing over him, trying to attract his attention.

            “When the moon is full,” the figure spoke at last, giving Snape a start, “the key to unlock the mirror’s mystery will be revealed.”

            “Do I know you?” Snape asked, half irritated, half unnerved.

            “Follow the rat into the forest and don’t look back!” the figure spoke again.

            “Who are you?” Snape asked, finding a bit of his courage and spending it all on those three tiny words.

            “A messenger,” the figure replied. “The mirror has shown you all it ever will. The rest is up to you.”

            “And why should I trust you?”

            The dark figure turned on its heel and walked away, leaving the question unanswered.  Snape sat dumbstruck, fixing in his mind the words the hooded figure had spoken; its size, its shape, the way its flaxen hair peeked out from under the hood and waved in the breeze as it turned to leave him.  He finally pulled himself together long enough to stand and shout, “Wait!” but in the crowded tavern it barely turned a head.  The figure exited, enveloped by a sea of people at the bar, and then it was gone.

It had to be some sort of joke; another prank courtesy of James Potter or one of his fellow Marauders, surely. While he was trying to remember which of them owned a rat, a thought struck Snape which sent a chill up his spine. Someone knows, he thought.  Someone knows I’ve been to the mirror.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

That evening as students thronged the great hall for dinner, Snape was greeted by none other than Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore asked Snape if he wouldn’t mind meeting in his office later that evening, just the two of them. He assured Snape that there was no cause for alarm and encouraged him to finish his dinner in a leisurely fashion. Snape was convinced that this was going to be all about the mirror and even then started trying to concoct a reasonable explanation. For the first time in his young life, however, he couldn’t come up with anything.  The Headmaster had him dead to rights and in this instance he knew that the truth was clearly stranger than fiction.

When dinner had ended, Snape began the ascent through the castle spires to Professor Dumbledore’s office. One of the prefects met him at the entryway and gave the password so Snape could enter. He stepped onto a slowly-moving spiral staircase which led him directly to the Headmaster’s chambers.  Snape stood still on the staircase as it spiraled upward, dizzied half by the slow, spiraling climb and half by the events of the past few days.  Professor Dumbledore was there to meet him. He looked out at Snape with the same warm, fatherly expression he held the first time he watched him walk down the aisle in the Great Hall to be sorted.

            “I wanted to talk to you, Severus,” began Professor Dumbledore, “because I have been growing increasingly concerned about you.  Please, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.”  Snape sat down tentatively, his eyes never leaving the Headmaster.

            “I know of your trips to the Mirror of Erised, Severus,” Dumbledore said, not in an accusing fashion, but in a tone which denoted true, fatherly concern. “I have seen the look on your face as you gaze into it; a gaze not of delight, but of burden. Are the things you desire also so burdensome that the notion of having them weighs so heavily upon you?”

            “My ambitions are complicated,” replied Snape, looking down at his shoes, now avoiding eye contact.

“I dare say they have become self-serving, arrogant, even vengeful,” Dumbledore interjected, “and if I may be so bold, it’s time to put your past behind you. The darkness in your outlook comes from spending so much time and energy looking into the past.” Dumbledore stood and began pacing the floor, talking into thin air, choosing his words carefully as he continued.  “Your past is dark, Severus. It has left a tremendous chip on your shoulder. Your future, however, is very, very bright. It is such a pity to me how you refuse to let yourself see it.”  Snape was still looking down. Dumbledore knew Snape was contemplating these words and continued. “I have tried and continue to try to find suitable outlets for you to absorb your anger, but more always remains. And I would not be honest, Severus, if I said I wasn’t at least mildly concerned by this fascination of yours with the Dark Arts. The more you entertain these thoughts of power and vengeance, the more they will start to control you. If you choose to listen to them, they will liken themselves to a Siren’s Song – grim and tragic - seducing you and dragging you into a very cold, dark abyss.”

            Snape could feel the anger rising within him; anger at the truth he knew was being spoken to him; anger at his feeling of powerlessness to release himself from the past. He rose to his feet abruptly.

“Is it wrong, professor,” Snape asked, “to want to be recognized, appreciated, and perhaps even respected? All I have ever known in this place are fair-weather friends, sideways glances, stifled whispers and outright ridicule. In that mirror I see the first glimmer of a life as a wizard who is great, who is powerful, confident and able. Is it wrong to aspire to such things, Professor?”

            “To have ambition,” Dumbledore replied, “is just fine, Severus, but not at the expense of honor and humility. It is always better to heal with a whisper than to rain down curses – even on your greatest of enemies.” Dumbledore approached Snape tentatively, maintaining his warm expression. He put both hands on Snape’s shoulders and looked so intently into his eyes Snape felt that Dumbledore could see right through him. 

“Dear Severus,” Dumbledore continued, “power in our world comes from knowing you can smite down your enemies with a glance and choosing to champion mercy and justice over vengeance.  It comes from knowing you possess the power to exact that vengeance and not needing to flaunt it; not having to prove anything. The moment your focus strays from being content in having power to having to prove it to yourself by deed, you become vulnerable; vulnerable to all manner of dark forces and easy prey for those who ally themselves with them.”

Dumbledore looked uncharacteristically grave as he took a step back. The smile was fading from his face. His much more serious expression now held Snape transfixed. Dumbledore began to speak again, and his words pierced Snape like a thousand steely daggers. “When that happens, Severus, when your anger starts to do your thinking for you, you will be all too easily seduced.” Dumbledore went and sat in a large comfortable chair next to a tall bookcase. He looked physically and emotionally spent.  Snape was at a loss for words and was finding it harder to meet Dumbledore’s eye. After a long moment of contemplative silence, Dumbledore continued.

            “You will know what greatness is someday, Severus.  It will not elude you forever. Choose your moments and your battles wisely and the power you crave will present itself in ways that are far more productive, resourceful and beneficial than in any gratuitous act.”

            With that, Snape was free to go. He very genuinely thanked his Headmaster for his overwhelming concern and promised to take it all to heart.  He still could not quite meet Dumbledore’s eye as he told him this. Over the next few days, these words would haunt him – so much so, in fact, that when the night of the next full moon came, Snape hadn’t even noticed.  He finished his homework in the common room like always and then realized that he was uncharacteristically tired.  Even as he noticed the hallways awash with moonlight earlier on, it didn’t faze him. Now, several hours later, he had collapsed into bed, fallen quickly and deeply asleep and, in an equally uncharacteristic manner, begun to dream.

 

 

₪₪₪₪₪₪

 

 

            In his dream, Snape was looking out over a huge checkered landscape and realized that he was a chessman - a black pawn, to be exact - and almost directly across the board from him was James Potter, the white king.  As the game progressed, it appeared as if Snape had been forgotten. He watched the battle going on around him and throughout the entire game, James stood grinning arrogantly at him, almost daring him to advance.  Never before had Snape seen such devastation in a game of chess.  The other chessmen had been reduced to a pile of rubble around him and in a vain effort to check the king, a black bishop came to rest only a square away from James. James pulled his sceptre and crushed it into oblivion.  Now it was down to only James Potter and Severus Snape. Snape moved off his square and started advancing rather quickly on James, his pair of battle swords drawn.

            “Wait a second,” James said, looking confused and notably terrified, “Severus? Severus! What are you playing at, man? This move isn’t legal!”  He waved his sceptre at Snape but the feeble little swords Snape was carrying sliced right through it, leaving James unarmed. Snape kicked James in the stomach, knocking him to the face of the chessboard.  He pointed one of the swords at James’ throat. James was powerless. He looked up at Snape, still trying to regain his breath, and screamed, “Have you gone mad?? You’re not playing by the rules!”

            “The rules,” Snape replied with an evil grin and a fury in his eyes that penetrated James like a knife, “are about to change.”

            Snape woke with a start. There, sitting on his chest, was the same grey rat who first led him to the Mirror of Erised.  Follow the rat…he heard in his mind. The rat sat there waiting patiently.  “You’ll want to move before I try to sit up,” he said to the rat, which scurried to the foot of the bed and sat up on its haunches. The rat jumped down onto the floor, while Snape pulled on his robes and shoes and crawled out the door of the dormitory.  Carefully, Snape pushed open the stone door enough to squeeze through and saw that the rat was waiting at the entrance to the Slytherin common room.  Not a prefect in sight, every person in every portrait was sound asleep…it was as if the rat had managed to clear a path for him straight out of the castle.  The rat was moving faster. Snape had no time to check around corners or listen for footsteps or even think. All he had time to do was follow.

 

            The scene was identical to the one in the mirror, only this time Snape was seeing it unfold in first-person.  He looked up and, for the first time, noticed the Full Moon. The cool of early spring washed over him and gave him a chill when it struck the sweat he didn’t know his face had broken into. The mirror didn’t tell him everything; this was obvious.  Snape was following the rat at a fast trot now; out onto the grounds, past Hagrid’s darkened hut and right to the edge of the Forbidden Forest.  The rat stopped for a moment, giving time for Snape to survey the scene. The warm orange light glowed in the distance, just as the mirror had shown him. The forest was also uncharacteristically quiet.  The rat started moving again, tentatively, making sure that Snape was following.  Deeper and deeper into the forest they ran, the light getting brighter by the minute. Snape had no idea how long he’d been following the rat; it felt at the same time like hours and yet mere moments. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the sound of thundering hooves and the cracking of branches.  The rat scurried between two large tree roots and hid, only peeking out every few moments to make sure that Snape was still there.  Snape took several large steps back as a large centaur emerged from the brush, reared up on its hind legs, then stood still before him. The centaur examined Snape with a severe look on its face.

            Severus Snape,” the centaur said, sounding equally grave.

            “Good evening, Ronan,” Snape returned cordially.

            Severus Snape, you must return to the castle. There is danger in the forest tonight. Unspeakable evil.  You must leave now.”

            “Thank you as always for your concern, Ronan,” Snape replied, “but I have never seen the forest so quiet; almost….welcoming, actually.”

            “Strange,” said Ronan, “how deceiving the quiet can be.”

            Snape looked at him with a quizzical eye. “What are you saying, Ronan?” he asked, knowing full well what his chances were of getting a straight answer out of him.

            “The most cunning predator knows to remain silent until it is upon its prey,” the Centaur explained.

            Snape stepped back a bit further. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the rat peering out from the top of the enormous root. Clearly, it was waiting for him. Snape drew his wand and pointed it, casually, toward the ground.

            “Once again, Ronan, I am appreciative of your overwhelming sense of duty to me, but I will not be going back to the castle just now.”

            “Of course,” said Ronan, eyeing the wand. “Far be it for me to interfere with your destiny.  Violence will not be necessary, Severus. The stars alone will decide your fate. I am powerless to change that. Good fortune to you on your quest and whatever end it holds for you.” Ronan, looking defeated, exited the same direction he had appeared and the forest went quiet again. Snape, however, felt it would be a good idea to keep his wand at the ready…just in case.

            The orange light seemed so close now, Snape could almost feel it. Clearly it was an enormous, towering bonfire, and still a considerable distance away.  He felt drawn to it, like a moth to a lantern. The rat re-emerged and suddenly it was off again, leading Snape off the beaten path into the thick of the forest. The almost eerie quiet resumed. The only sound around him was that of his own footsteps, heavy and rhythmic, trying to keep up with the rat as it veered off to the left, and then the right through a dense thicket. Snape was now more than a little bit concerned about disturbing a large snake or venomous spider and yet the more he contemplated these things, the more completely free from such dangers he appeared to be. He could smell the fire now, it was so close. The entire sky seemed to be alight with its warm, orange glow.  The rat disappeared into the thick of the woods and Snape followed. He stumbled, almost falling on his face, at the startling display before him.

 

            There had to be a hundred of them or more: people in dark, hooded robes, all forming a circle around the immense bonfire. There, in the center, neatly framed by those massive flames stood a towering pillar of a man, arrayed in fine scarlet robes. He was clutching a wand in his right hand, beckoning the rat to him with the other.  Although he had never actually seen so much as a picture of him, Snape knew who this man was. With a look of panicked disbelief, coupled with a note of exhilaration, Snape took several more steps forward and gazed, for the first time, into the eyes of Lord Voldemort.  Snape’s heart was pounding so violently he thought it might burst through his chest at any moment.

            “My faithful Death Eaters,” Voldemort hissed, taking several steps toward Snape, who was now paralyzed with fear, “our guest of honor has arrived.”

            Out of the circle, one of the Death Eaters emerged and took position at Voldemort’s right hand. From the opposite end of the circle, another came and stood to his left.  The rat, who had perched himself on Voldemort’s shoulder, now leapt to the ground and stood before Snape. It sat up on its haunches and gave an excited squeak. A moment later, a lanky, young man in faded grey robes was standing where the rat had been. He pulled back his hood and looked deep into Snape’s eyes.  Snape’s look of panic quickly dissolved into a seething maelstrom of fury.

            YOU!”  Snape hissed at the young man who now stood before him.

 

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