We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"
Albus Dumbledore drummed his fingers on his desk blotter.
"So what is it you need to tell me,
Oliver?" he asked the stooped wizard seated before him, even though
Dumbledore could guess what his Potions master had come to say.
"I understand that youíre still shorthanded,
Albus, but I really canít see my way to staying
any longer," said Professor Graves. "I remained at my post through
the war, as I said I would, but now that young Potter seems to have actually
put paid to You-know-"
Dumbledore cleared his throat.
the professor continued, "I feel that I have met my stated obligations.
I will, of course, carry on through the end of the year."
"Thatís very kind of you, Oliver,"
Dumbledore replied. "If there is anyone you would care to recommend
for your post, Minerva and I would be most pleased to hear it."
"Of course, Headmaster," said Professor Graves replied."I
shall consider the matter carefully. Good day." The wizard rose from
the armchair opposite the Headmasterís desk, reached a steadying hand
toward the rook that rested, as always, upon his shoulder, and turned
to descend the moving staircase.
Dumbledore sighed. Gravesí was the third
faculty resignation he had accepted since the winter holiday. The release
of tension that had accompanied Voldemortís
downfall and the subsequent roundup of the Death Eaters had begun to eat
away at the Hogwarts teaching staff. Now that it appeared to be safe to
leave the school, Graves was only the latest to want to return to what
remained of his family and life beyond the grounds.
But neither Professor Noether,
of the Arthimancy Department, nor Professor
Benedict, who taught Muggle Studies, had been
members of Slytherin House. For years, Graves
had not only served as Head of Slytherin, but
the Potions master had been the only Slytherin
on the faculty. Madam Pince, it was true, had
been in Slytherin during her school days, but she had abjured all
connections to the Serpentís Den many years ago when she returned to Hogwarts
to care for the library. And in any case, the rigidly strict librarian
would never agree to any task that would remove her from the bays and
alleys of her quiet domain.
There was nothing to it but that Dumbledore would have to replace at least one of his departing
teachers with a Slytherin whom he could trust with the oversight of the Slytherin students, several of whom had seen their families
disrupted and divided by the Ministry trials that followed Voldemortís
mysterious departure. Not to mention a few of whom he suspected of still
attempting to follow in the footsteps of their wayward parents.
"And you didnít try to talk him out
of it?" Professor McGonagall asked glumly as she and Dumbledore headed
back to the staff room after dinner that evening.
"What would be the point, Minerva?"
replied the Headmaster. "Itís been clear for some time that Oliverís
heart is no longer in the work. I would almost prefer to have no Slytherins
among us than one who has ceased to observe even the most cursory changes
in his chargesí behavior."
"Or to notice their intellectual
accomplishments, or the lack thereof," Minvera
wearily agreed. "The next lot of O.W.L. candidates arenít too bad,
but the marks on last springís N.E.W.T.s in
Potions were disgraceful, even considering the recent, er,
distractions. Heís been letting the students slide much too easily, especially
in the sixth and seventh year."
"Still," Dumbledore continued,
"that does leave us with yet another vacancy to fill."
"I suppose we might look for an Arithmatician to fill the Slytherin
Headship?" Minerva inquired.
"Only if you happen
to have perfected transfiguring ravens into serpents. No, Minerva, I suspect that the pattern will hold true
and that we will find that our new Potions instructor will be able to
take on the responsibilities of Slytherin as
a matter of course."
"Very well. Iíll send to the Prophet in the morning with
"Not just yet, I think," Dumbledore
replied. "I have an idea."
McGonagall flinched inwardly, but she
knew better than to ask.
Later that evening, Dumbledore returned
to his office, fetched parchment and quill, and sat down to write.
It was, after all, a most complicated
proposition. The candidate he had in mind was, for many reasons, an exceptionally
That didn't stop Dumbledore from pursuing
this solution to his problem.
Loading his quill with ink, he considered
the obvious difficulty: his candidate was sure to decline any such offer
of employment. In comparison, the candidate's age, temperament, and relative
inexperience were mere bagatelles, unworthy of excessive thought
in the present moment. Dumbledore had not reached his current position
in life by dwelling on the irrelevant.
I have encountered
a most unusual situation, one in which your advice would be much appreciated.
I will come to see you at four o'clock on Thursday. If, as before, there
is a library volume which would aid your current research, I would be pleased to bring it with me if you will send
me a title by return owl.
Summoning a school owl, Dumbledore folded
the parchment carefully and attached it to the bird's outstretched leg.
"To Severus Snape," said the Headmaster.
The barn owl flapped its wings twice and soared out of the window. On
his perch by the fire, Fawkes keened softly.
"You never know, my friend," said Dumbledore. "This might
be just the thing. For all of us."
The barn owl returned the next morning
just as Albus and Minerva were finishing breakfast.
The parchment read:
Moste Potente Potions 153/37
"Most excellent," said Dumbledore,
as he incinerated the parchment scrap over an empty saucer.
"Good news, Albus?"
"Potentially," the Headmaster
replied. "Our new Potions master has agreed to an interview, although
I must confess he is not yet fully aware of the scope of our discussion."
Minerva raised an eyebrow. "That
was fast. Pray tell, who is this person?"
The Deputy Headmistress set down her teacup
with rather more force than she had intended. "Excuse me?"
"I heard you, Albus.
But isnít he a bit . . . well, young for this sort of responsibility?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, of course
he is. But think what a nice change it will make for the Slytherins,
Minerva. They might actually even talk to him."
"I canít argue the fact that Graves
hasnít spoken to his own students since 1973, Albus,
but do you really think that Snape is a wise
"He was an excellent Potions student,
Minerva, and he has continued his work in that field since he left us
five years ago. Thatís why the Death Eaters kept him in the fold even
after some of them surely began to suspect that his loyalties were not
what they once were."
"And youíre convinced that those
"Yes, I am," Dumbledore insisted
rather sternly. "As you should be. And I
am afraid that those of Voldemortís followers
who remain at large suspect as much, which is yet another reason to bring
Severus here. He undertook enormous risks for us, Minerva.
We owe him shelter, at the very least, and I would like to think that
we could offer him a great deal more."
"But heíll know nothing about teaching,
did any of us, at one point or another. Iím sure I can count on you to
assist him in that regard?"
customarily stoic mien slipped for just a moment.
"He was a very good student, Minerva,"
Dumbledore chided gently. "He will learn."
Minerva mused, as she strode toward the Transfiguration classroom, must
Albus always be coming up with schemes he feels are certain
to improve my character? First things first, however.
Having arrived at her classroom door, she straightened the collar of her
emerald green robe and adjusting her glasses a bit further down her nose
before entering to face the stares of the fourth year Hufflepuffs.
It being Thursday, she had only one free hour between breakfast and four
o'clock and she found herself preoccupied even then with Sinistra's reports
about a new variety of cheating charm that had surfaced in some Slytherin
Astronomyessays. As the afternoon wore on, Minerva longed for the peace
of her own sitting room, if only for a brief interval before dinner.
When she finally achieved her own rooms,
she found Poppy already ensconced in front of the fire at one end of the
long leather couch.
"Oh, Min!" Poppy exclaimed, "you
look as if you've been wrestling dragons since lunchtime at the very least.
Do come and sit down. Scotch?"
Minerva smiled. "You do know just
what I like, don't you?"
"Of course I do," said Poppy,
as she levitated a decanter and two glasses from the sideboard and brought
them to rest on the table in front of her.
Minerva folded herself onto the couch
and accepted her glass gratefully. Only after she had emptied it by about
half did Poppy speak again.
"So what is it, Minerva? You've not
become this exercised by chasing errant truants or preparing the term's
exam lists, have you?"
"No, it's rather more complicated
than that. Albus-"
"Humph, I might have known,"
Poppy muttered, "what has he done this time?"
"He's decided that he has the perfect
replacement for Oliver Graves. He wants to hire a mere child both to teach
Potions and to step in as Head of house for Slytherin.
And won't I be oh so pleased to make sure this infant doesn't drown in
his own ignorance?"
"Who is it, Min?"
Poppy hooted. "Snape? That unctuous little git? Well, he's not exactly an infant, is he?"
Poppy calculated for a moment. "He'd be what, twenty-three now?"
"Twenty-two," Minerva replied
acidly, refilling her glass.
"Well, he did survive his own experiments
with belladonna in fifth year-"
"No one was in hospital for more
than a week-"
"Except for Ludtz."
"Except for Ludtz,
but the mediwizards at St. Mungoís
learned a great deal from that case, you have to admit-"
"No, I donít."
"Fine. Have it your way. Although," Poppy smiled somewhat
wickedly, "I canít fathom why youíre getting all hot and bothered
over some man."
On Thursday afternoon, Dumbledore stopped
by the Restricted Section of the library to fetch Hogwartsí copy of Moste Potente Potions
from Madam Pinceís heavily guarded shelves.
As the book was a rare edition, the librarian was not eager to see it
leave her premises in even the Headmasterís capable hands, but Dumbledore
insisted, promising that he would return the volume both promptly and
"After all, Headmaster, itís been
stolen before, as youíll remember," Madam Pince
recalled. "A nasty little Slytherin made
off with it for three whole months a few years back and the house-elves
had to practically dismantle the dungeons before I got it back."
"Never fear, Madam Pince,"
Dumbledore replied, patting the bookís mottled and stained green leather
cover, "I wonít let him keep it this time. Good day." The Headmaster
turned swiftly and headed for the door, leaving the speechless librarian
in his wake.
in a rather dank alley that meandered behind a petrol station, a mouldy-looking greengrocerís, and three different pubs, each
of which managed to appear Ė and smell -- a bit seedier than the one before.
He walked down the alley until he reached an iron door set into the wall
opposite the third pub and tapped it with his wand. The door disappeared,
admitting Dumbledore into a small foyer lit by a bare 15-watt bulb. The
next door had no handle at all.
Still not in the mood for company,
are you, Severus?
mused the Headmaster, smiling briefly. He removed
Moste Potente Potions
from one of his robesí copious pockets and opened the volume to page 157,
which was the third page of a recipe for Draught of the Living Death.
Dumbledore then counted thirty-seven words from the bottom of the page
until he reached the word "pulverized," which he spoke aloud.
The inner door opened with an unappetizing squeal, revealing a rather
cramped and grungy flat within.
"Good afternoon, Severus,"
said Dumbledore, although Snape was not anywhere
to be seen. "Iíve brought your book."
"Thank you, Headmaster," said
a voice emanating from what looked to be a narrow kitchen off to the right.
"Tea?" A tall young man, exceptionally thin, appeared
bearing a tray loaded with a stained ironstone pot and two mugs, one of
which was chipped.
"Please," the Headmaster replied,
helping himself to a mug from the tray and glancing around the small sitting
room as he took a seat. The fireplace was cold, and it had probably been
many years since anyone had taken a paintbrush to the sooty wall above
it. The only element that kept the flat from being completely devoid of
personality was an ordered rank of books and notebooks on the small table
under the window.
"You wrote that you wanted my advice?"
Severus asked, somewhat hesitantly.
"Yes, indeed," Dumbledore replied.
"But first tell me how youíve been keeping, Severus.
I imagine that this recent bout of inactivity must seem rather odd, if
"This isnít the easiest place to
work, but I have made some progress with that new class of antidotes OíHalloran stumbled upon last fall."
"And youíre still maintaining all
of the old safeguards, I see."
"I thought it best. I probably wonít
stay in this flat much longer, however. Itís become too habitual."
"Ah," said Dumbledore, slightly
pleased. "Where will you go next?"
"I hadnít really thought about it,"
Snape replied. "I suppose it doesnít much
"But it may, my friend. Iím afraid
that this peripatetic life doesnít suit you, Severus.
You neednít spend the rest of your days in hiding, you know."
"Iím not hiding," Severus snapped. "Iím just being . . . cautious."
"Caution has its place, but not at
the expense of that which makes life worth living," Dumbledore remonstrated
"And that would be?"
"Meaningful work, a comfortable home,
the company of likeminded friends . . ."
"You came to ask my advice, Headmaster,
not for me to ask yours."
Dumbledore smiled. "Iím afraid itís
all one and the same, Severus. I have a favor
to ask of you."
Snape looked wary. Couched in those terms, there was little
he could bring himself to deny Dumbledore.
"Professor Graves will be leaving
Hogwarts at the end of the year. Now that Voldemort
has been removed from the field, Oliver is determined to return to what
remains of his family. His grandchildren will need him, now."
Snape snorted again. "They needed him before. But Graves
is a coward as well as a fool."
"Graves is human, Severus,
as are we all," Dumbledore countered. "I know that you resented
his inattention to your own progress at Hogwarts, both in Potions and
in the affairs of Slytherin House, but that
time has passed."
"And I find myself with the need
to replace Professor Graves with one who is both skilled in Potions and
capable of giving the Slytherin students the
direction they most sorely need."
"I see your problem, Headmaster."
Snape thought for a moment. "Magda
Romowski might be persuaded, although she never
really mastered truth potions. . . . . There arenít many Slytherins
who would welcome a place at Hogwarts at the moment."
"Iím not looking for recommendations,
Severus. Iím offering you the job."
Snape looked as though the Headmaster had just flung a Stunning
Spell at him from across the room.
"Me? You want me to come to Hogwarts?"
"Yes, thatís exactly what I want.
Think of the possibilities, Severus. A
laboratory. Support for your research. A hand in the future of
your House. To my mind, you are the only suitable candidate and I would
very much like you to accept."
"But Iíve never even considered teaching,
Headmaster. I . . . I wouldnít even know how to begin."
"You are an excellent student, Severus," Dumbledore replied. "You will learn to
teach as you have learned many other things." The Headmaster grinned
in a most disconcerting way. "And I am sure that Professor McGonagall
will be only too pleased to assist as you gain your bearings."
"There are many members of Slytherin House . . . students . . . parents . . . who will
object to such an appointment," he added guardedly.
"There may be some protests, but
I cannot imagine that they will be too strenuous in the current environment.
I could, after all, place Slytherin in other
hands entirely." Dumbledore paused for a moment, as if to consider
his options. "Professor Sinistra might
be persuaded to take on the additional responsibility." Snape
shuddered at the thought of the Astronomy teacher exploring the reaches
of the Serpentís Den.
"I think," Dumbledore continued,
"you will find that the current members of Slytherin
have a great deal to learn from you beyond the
techniques of the Potions laboratory."
The Headmaster became uncharacteristically
grave. "Our charges must learn many things, Severus.
Including the importance of making the right decision
even when it seems certain that the moment for deciding has passed."
Snape had no reply to this statement. And as he had known
from the beginning, there was only one response to the Headmasterís request.
"When would you like me to begin?"