Part Two - Severus Snape
A/N: This is J. K. Rowling's sandbox; I'm
just playing in it. I'd like to thank Helen H, who beta'd this story. And I
should point out that this story is the flip side of "Controlling the
Center", which is part of a series. I recommend reading that story prior
to reading this one.
"The animosity between you and Harry
Potter has proven more costly than it should, and it is impairing both his
development as a wizard and your own. If you wish your efforts over the last
fifteen years to have been worth anything at all, you must set this enmity
Hogwarts in July. Severus Snape's quill
scratched across the parchment, recording revisions to his lesson plans that
would better protect his students -- those few who actually took the trouble to
learn those lessons, at least -- in the war that was expanding all around them.
He was ahead of schedule, but he had been sufficiently distracted of late that
he had been unable to enjoy doing anything actually leisurely during his free
He had listened stoically to Headmaster
Dumbledore's admonishments about his relationship with Potter. Though his face
had betrayed no expression as usual, his mind had been unsettled. He valued
the headmaster's opinion, as he owed his life -- and his soul, such as it was
-- to the man. More: his personal plans for the future depended on
Dumbledore's goodwill. Heavy as his hatred for Potter was, it did not outweigh
his ambition. So he had consulted someone who, unlikely as it would seem to
the students of Hogwarts, he considered a good friend, and valued counsel.
"He's not James, you know,"
Minerva McGonagall said to him, barely smiling. She moved a bishop.
Severus glared at her. "He acts
like James." He considered the board. When he looked back up, she was
glaring at him in precisely the way he had glared at her, except that her smile
"That's because you treat him like
James. He is his mother's son as much as his father's; try treating him like
He grimaced. "Lily and I didn't get
on well either." He moved a pawn.
"No, but you might have eventually.
Whereas with James..." She sighed. "Probably not, I suppose. I
found him almost as impossible as you did." She reached for a knight.
"You don't have to do it all at once."
"I would prefer not to have to do it
at all. And I'm sure he would prefer that as well." He considered moving
his pawn again, then saw an opening on the other side of the board. "And
treating him civilly in front of Draco Malfoy is likely to raise
"Who said you had to do it in front
Severus's eyes widened briefly. Then he
favored his opponent with a very rare, genuine smile.
Severus waved his wand slightly, and the
quill fell to the desk. Distracted or not, he was tired of working on lesson
plans, and he thought he might actually be able to lose himself in a good book
for once this summer. Naturally, just as he made up his mind about this, there
was a knock at the door.
Suppressing a sigh, he called out.
He looked up to see Harry Potter enter
his office, alone. Did Albus say Potter was coming here? He was on his feet, wand out, before he
had thought about what he was doing. "What are you doing here, Potter?"
Instead of his normal defensive
insolence, however, Potter seemed impressed by something. "Wow! That...
that's the fastest... can you teach us that?"
Ho, yes. The great Gryffindor love
affair with wands strikes again.
"Considering the results of my attempt to teach you Occlumency, I think
it unlikely. Again. What are you doing here, Potter?"
Potter seemed a bit out of sorts, and
Severus considered what he had said. Concentrate, Severus. Lily, not
Finally, Potter replied.
"Oh...right. I came to apologize, sir."
He fought to keep his face blank. What
the hell is he on about?
"Er...yes. For intruding where I
shouldn't have. With the...er...Pensieve. I shouldn't have done that, and I'm
Had Severus been standing, he might have
fallen over. The idea that a Potter would ever apologize to him was completely
outside his experience. Instinct took over, and as he quietly said, "Are
you now," he started to use Legilimency to read Potter's thoughts, to see
whether he was up to something.
The first thing he saw was exactly what
Harry thought at the moment of entry: I didn't know you could do that
without saying Legilimens.
Then he was taken back almost five years, to the day he had first met Harry
Potter. "Harry Potter. Our new - celebrity", he saw himself say, but
from Potter's perspective, not his own. He was momentarily pleased at how
intimidating he appeared to the young Potter. Then he realized that Harry was
using Telemency to block him, and quite effectively. Annoyed, he left Harry's
mind. He often disagreed with Albus and Minerva about the amount of coddling
they seemed to feel was appropriate for the students of Hogwarts, but he had to
admit that if the headmaster had taught Potter so much so quickly, there might
be method to the old man's madness.
"You know, Potter, if you want that
technique to work, you're going to have to learn to pick relevant thoughts to
project," he said casually. He thought that was fair; Potter's technique
itself needed no criticism, it was just too obvious when he was using it. Where
were we again? Ah.
"So. I am supposed to believe that
you came all the way to Hogwarts simply to apologize? My first years lie
better than that."
"No, sir. Erm... I came to ask for
Minerva didn't provide him with the
alternative she mentioned to me. Interesting. Severus decided to play along.
"Of what sort?"
Potter seemed uncomfortable. "I'm
familiar with your admissions policy for NEWT-level Potions, and..." he actually
swallowed. "I'd like to take the class anyway."
Five points to Gryffindor for bravery,
then, but five off for being a glutton for punishment. "I see." He paused to think
for a moment, steepling his fingers. "Request denied. You may go."
As he expected, Potter didn't want to
take no for an answer. "But..."
He stood up, feeling rather pleased.
This was going to be easier than he'd thought. "But what?"
"I...nothing. Nothing, sir."
For a moment, Severus wondered if Potter
was playing some very deep game. For five years he had been trying to get the
boy to shut up long enough to learn something, and now that he wanted Potter to
talk, he wouldn't. Irritated, he snapped, "If it WAS nothing, you would
have SAID nothing. But what, Potter? What is so terribly important that you
think I should tarnish my record as Potions master for you, of all
"I don't know."
You know, Potter, I like you better
when you fight back.
"You don't know. Is this where you tell me to ask Miss Granger, because
she so clearly knows?" He thought the reminder that Potter was hardly an
innocent party in their relationship might provoke him. If their first meeting
so bothered the boy that he would remember it clearly, a reminder of his own
insolence might throw him off balance enough that he would let something slip.
And he was right; finally, Potter
snapped. "No, this is where I ask you to tell me, because if anyone knows, it's almost certainly
you. I've never liked you or your teaching methods, Professor, and I know you
don't like me much as a student, or anything else. But I don't know what I'll
need to... fight... Voldemort." Potter paused briefly, almost stumbling
over his words. "I... I can't afford to pretend that he won't continue to
come after me, and I can't afford to simply drop Potions. Not now. And I'm
not sure I can learn what I need to know without your help. If I've got to sit
through two more years of you to learn it, then so be it, but I can't let it
Severus sat very still for a moment,
letting Potter stew about what he had just said. Having been annoyed by the
boy's initial reluctance to fight back, he was enjoying this. He started to
glare, intending to worry Potter even more.
It seemed to work; after a bit, Potter
tried to apologize again. "I'm sorry to have-"
"SILENCE!" Severus thundered.
Now that he was in control of the conversation, he intended to keep it. Under
his robes, he touched his wand long enough to conjure a chair. "Sit
down," he said, and was pleased to watch Potter do exactly that.
"You Gryffindors really are thick
about some things," he said. He adopted a mocking tone. "I've never
liked you or your teaching methods. IDIOT! You're not supposed to LIKE my
teaching methods. You're supposed to LEARN from them!"
This was supposed to make Potter cower
even more, so that Severus could then dictate terms from a position of control.
Instead it angered him again. "Oh, yes, Professor, I've seen how well
people learn when they're given incomplete information. Tell me, how many of
your students received O's on their Potions OWLs last year? Because EVERY
fifth year in Dumbledore's Army earned one in Defense Against the Dark
Inwardly, Severus sighed. Treat him
like James, et cetera. I see, already. He decided to try a more reasonable tack. "And if you
had applied yourself in Potions to anywhere near the same degree, you would
have earned an O on that exam as well," he pointed out, as gently as he
dared. "Or in Occlumency, for that matter."
But for some reason Potter was still on
about teaching. "Applied myself? Would it have been so difficult to have
said at any point, 'By the way, Potter, if you're too thick to simply clear
your mind, try using a single thought to clear out everything else and then fading
that thought to black?' Because I might not have got Sirius killed if you
Severus was already beginning to lose his
patience with Potter yet again, and the mention of his long-time nemesis pushed
him just enough. "Is that what this is all about, Potter? Feeling guilty
about losing your puppy?"
The moment the words were out of his
mouth, he knew he had made a mistake, and he put his hand on his wand again in
case Potter tried something truly rash. But that weird reticence had surfaced
again. Instead of pulling his wand and snarling, the boy's face simply closed
up, and he got up to leave.
Albus will blow my cover if this
conversation ends here. And I'll deserve it. Annoyed with himself, Severus used his wand to close the
door, and then to put Harry back into his seat. "Oh, no. Not until you
sit there and actually learn something today, you self-centered Gryffindor
twit." Oh yes, keep insulting him, Snape, that will definitely help
the two of you get along better in the long run.
He fumbled for what to say next, and
eventually settled on honesty. "Amazing. Our little celebrity has finally
learned how to listen. Let me tell you something, Potter, about your precious
godfather. If he had any sense whatsoever, we would not be here having this
The next thing he knew, Potter's wand was
at his throat. He hadn't seen the boy reach for it, and he wasn't sure anyone
would have. And to think he wanted me to teach him
how to draw, Severus
Meanwhile, Potter was snarling,
"Take that back!" He looked capable of murder.
But Severus suddenly realized that he was
in control of the conversation again. The boy wasn't his father; he did not
hex without reason. "No." He stared down the business end of Potter's
wand, refusing to draw his own. It took a while, but eventually the wand
He paused for a moment. Damn
Gryffindors. How can I put this so that he'll understand me for once? "Sirius Black may have been a
talented wizard, but he was reckless and overconfident, and it cost him his
life. There were witnesses to his duel with Bellatrix, Potter, witnesses on
both sides of this little war, and every one I've listened to said that if
Black had been more careful Bellatrix would not have got the best of him. I'm
the only person who can tell you that, and I don't intend to tell you twice.
You didn't get Sirius Black killed. He got himself killed."
Severus half expected Potter to raise his
wand again. But instead he put it away, and asked, "Is that all,
Professor?" He looked like he was actually thinking about what he had
just heard for once. So Severus decided to press his advantage.
"No, it isn't. You and your little
Gryffindor friends have been running amok at this school for five years, playing
at heroes and villains, and blithely doing whatever you please. It has been an
unfortunate trait in your house for far too long, and if you actually expect to
defeat the Dark Lord it is something you will have to LEARN TO CONTROL! Otherwise, your end
will match that of your beloved Sirius Black: premature, and at the hands of
your enemy!" He found himself raising his voice twice. Even when he
isn't acting like James he gets under my skin. How the hell does Minerva put
up with him?
The reminder of his occasional chess
opponent gave Severus an idea. "You are familiar with chess,
Potter?" Potter nodded, although he looked somewhat mystified.
"Good. I'll keep this simple, as I doubt you have seriously studied the
game. What good would your pieces be to you if they kept leaving the squares
you had assigned them to?"
Potter thought for a moment, then,
"That would depend where they went and what they did."
Five points for delivering exactly the
answer I expected.
"Ah. And you think your pieces would be intelligent enough to discern
your objectives from the current state of the board and act accordingly, even
correcting your strategic errors? Tell me, Potter, in that case why do your
pieces need you at all?"
Potter opened his mouth to answer, but didn't
say anything. Eventually, he closed his mouth again.
"Indeed," Severus said, as
mildly as he could. How would Minerva do this? "Try to remember this moment,
Potter, as vividly as you do that other."
Potter looked at him, obviously confused.
By reflex, Severus made his face as blank as possible. He wasn't sure what
the boy would see otherwise. Eventually, Potter asked "Are we done,
He almost said yes, but his curiosity got
the better of him. "Almost. After you informed me of your erroneous
belief that Black had been captured by Death Eaters, why did you then decide to
play the hero anyway?"
This clearly irritated Potter.
"What else could I do? You acted like you had no idea what I was talking
Severus's fists clenched, involuntarily.
Does the boy have NO inkling of the fragile nature of my position? "What were you expecting with
Umbridge and Draco Malfoy within earshot, Potter?"
Potter glared back at him. "I don't
know. Something. Anything. Use of the word 'marauder' or 'map' or even
Again, Severus spoke without considering
the effect his words might have. "Such as kindness to Neville Longbottom
and a veiled insult towards Vincent Crabbe, perhaps?"
For a long moment, Potter just stared
back blankly. Then his face crumpled, and he swayed in his chair. "Was
that what... oh God..."
Too late, Severus realized what damage he
had done. He's not just upset about losing Black. He feels responsible for
all of it. Even
after what Albus told him -- even after what I told him -- he still feels responsible. And he thinks
I've just confirmed it. Albus won't hand me over to the Dark Lord; he'll kill
me himself. Wanting to
deflect Potter's guilt but not knowing how, Severus fell back on the only thing
he knew he could do well - getting under the boy's skin. "No, Potter. You
were supposed to realize that I would understand you regardless of what I
actually said. Even Gryffindors should understand subtlety by the end of fifth
year. Learn to pay attention to what is left unsaid, Potter. Look for the
gaps. It may actually save
someone's life someday."
It appeared to work; Potter was
distracted enough to glare at Severus again. "Really."
Relieved, he almost sighed. "Yes,
Potter, really. We're finished. Don't hesitate to leave." He was going
to need a shot of the single malt Scotch he brewed for the staff.
Potter got up to go, and Severus suddenly
remembered that he still had unfinished business concerning NEWT Potions. He
almost stopped the boy, but then he realized, I can ask Minerva to say that
she thought of a compromise.
But Potter stopped before he reached the door.
"What now, Potter?" Am I
going to have to start all over?
And then, Potter gave him a gift.
"What course of action would you recommend for a student who didn't
receive an O on his Potions OWL, but was determined to sit for the Potions NEWT
After all that, he gives me this?
What is...oh. Dear God. He's trying as hard to keep the peace as I am. Instinctively, Severus suppressed the
impulse to compose his face; for once, he just let the shock show through. And
Potter seemed to respond to it well; his posture straightened slightly, and a
glint the Potions master had come to despise over the years reappeared for the
first time since before that little mishap with the Pensieve. Ah. This
should be interesting.
"For the written section, you should
follow the reading and assignment schedule used in the NEWT Potions class. You
may obtain those from one of your little friends. For the practical section,
you will have to put in a request for lab time. Since those requests are
approved or denied by me..."
Severus paused for effect. He'd known
what his terms would be almost immediately after talking to Minerva, but it
wouldn't do to let the boy know that.
"...you're going to have to convince
me that you are, in fact, determined to sit for the Potions NEWT at the end of
your seventh year."
"Of course. How do you propose I do
He really is trying to make this easy
"What?" Finally, Potter seemed
to realize what he had set himself up for.
"You disapprove? I thought you were
determined." Damn. I sound like Black used to. I may have to play
another game or two with Minerva soon.
"I am, sir. I'm just...not sure I
understand what you're proposing."
"It's quite simple. If you expect
me to approve your request for lab time, you will have to add a written
statement to that request that states that you agree not to play for the Gryffindor
Quidditch team this year. Or..." Snape paused to think. Let's see how
much he learned today.
"...any other team, for that matter. If you fail to adhere to that
statement, I will immediately withdraw my approval."
"Because I said so, Potter. And as
a reminder that mistakes have consequences."
Potter was clearly unhappy about how his
last request had been answered, but didn't seem inclined to press the matter.
"All right, sir. Will the first day of classes be early enough for me to
turn in the lab request?"
"Yes. I don't really care to see
you before then. Run along, Potter." And wonder of wonders, the boy
actually did just that. Severus watched him leave carefully, then listened to
his footsteps fade, then pause, then fade out entirely. Only then did he let
out a heavy sigh. Even with them both working to avoid their usual pattern, it
was going to be a long year. At least it's a start, he thought. Five years late,
perhaps, but a start, nonetheless.