EXPLANATIONS: A HARRY POTTER FAN-FICTION STORY
Word count: 3818
Rating: PG for violence
Summary: Ordinary days for Severus Snape during Harry Potter’s sixth year.
By the time the torture session began in earnest, Severus Snape had occluded so deeply that no one, not even the Dark Lord or Headmaster, could detect anything other than disdain and boredom. The ministry official on the floor writhed in pain as he was repeatedly hit by tortuous curses from a half dozen Death Eaters. Deep in the recesses of his mind, Snape cataloged the wizard’s name – Arkady Spellman – and his “crime” – refusal to turn over the location of one of the Order’s safe houses. Fool, Snape thought to himself, the safe house is one of many. If you had warned the Order, it could have set a trap for any attacker. If you had been a Slytherin rather than a Hufflepuff your family would see you alive tomorrow. He watched dispassionately as one of Dolohov’s curses cut off the man’s left hand. Not whole, he amended to himself. But alive.
He felt a chill come over him as he saw the Dark Lord approach out of the corner of his eye. He immediately turned and bowed his head. “My Lord.”
Voldemort, seemingly unconsciously, ran a thin finger down the length of his wand, but Snape knew it was a calculated move. “You do not appear to be enjoying yourself, Severusss,” the Dark Lord hissed. “You don’t approve of punishing this fool?”
Snape let a frisson of fear show through his mental shields. He had learned a long time ago that to appear fearless in front of the Dark Lord was a mistake punishable by a great amount of pain to rectify that error in thinking. Even as he did so, he tightened his deeper mental shields. Control, he whispered to himself in his mind. Control.
“The fool is receiving what he deserves,” Snape answered. “He should have cooperated.” He let his belief in the truth of that statement leak through his shields.
Voldemort nodded approvingly as he gave Snape an appraising look. “You are wondering why I asked you to be here, Severusss.”
In the recesses of his mind, Snape had already asked himself the same thing. He normally was not called during the week for something as banal as a murder. Snape bowed his head again. “I would never question you, my Lord. I know you will let me know when it is time for me to learn how I may serve you.”
The Dark Lord gave Snape a vindictive smile. “Always so smooth, my loyal servant.” He lifted his wand and dragged the tip of it along Severus’ cheeks in a parody of a caress. By now, several of the Death Eaters, who were always aware of Voldemort’s location when they were in the same room as a form of self-preservation, were watching the drama unfold between the two rather than focusing on the night’s victim.
The Dark Lord’s gaze flickered to the small audience before focusing back on Snape. “But even loyal servants must be punished if they do not follow my directions, don’t you agree, Severusss?” His eyes flickered back to the bloody, sobbing body on the floor, no longer able to scream and then to those watching the two converse with just a hint of impatience. Instantly, the others resumed their cursing.
Severus wondered if he’d be teaching his classes in the morning. Control, he reminded himself. “Of course, my Lord. Everyone must do their utmost to fulfill your desires.” Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind, the potions master added, with the faintest of thoughts, the caveat, as necessary to survive so that your defeat comes closer.
“Of course, my potions master and spy, of course. Tell me, can you honestly say you are doing your best?”
“Certainly, my Lord,” Snape swore. Control. He let the complete truth that he was doing his best fill his mind. Who he was doing his best for was buried deep in his memory.
Voldemort drummed his wand against his robe and gave a parody of a smile. “Excellent. In that case you will have the potion I asked for next week.”
Snape bowed once again. “If at all humanly possible, my Lord,” but I serve Dumbledore, not you.
The Dark Lord’s smile disappeared. “You will make it possible, Severusss, or I will be displeased. You are a potions master, after all, even if the fool has you teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts this year. This should not be beyond your ability. Am I understood?”
“Of course, my Lord. I will redouble my efforts,” though not on your behalf.
Voldemort once again traced Snape’s cheek with his wand. “I knew I could count on you, my obedient servant. You may go so that you may serve me well.” He contemptuously turned his back on Snape to watch Spellman’s suffering.
With a sustained bow, Snape backed out of the room slowly, refusing to run. Control.
After apparating back to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, just outside Hogwarts’ wards, Snape made sure he was alone and then closed his eyes briefly, letting the first of his mental shields fall. He had learned a long time ago that keeping all six of his mental shields in place rapidly became painful and eventually excruciating. When in the presence of the Inner Circle of the Death Eaters it was inevitable, but away from them he let the outermost shield fall as soon as possible. That, at least, that postponed the agonizing pain that was sure to come due to his other five shields still being up for another half hour. Until he was in his room, however, and had determined it had remained inviolate, he would keep the next four levels of his mental shields up unless otherwise directed by the Headmaster. Since the return of the Dark Lord, he had never lowered his sixth and final shield. He had learned to live with the low level of chronic pain it caused.
As his shield fell, he felt fury filling him from all he had seen. He drew his wand and violently incinerated a nearby bush.
In his office, Albus Dumbledore was relieved when one of the silver devices on his bookcase vibrated softly. Walking over to the fireplace, he grabbed some floo powder. “Poppy, I’m off to bed. Anything I need to know?”
Madam Pomfrey sighed happily when she heard the phrase that indicated Severus would not be coming to her that night for treatment. “Nothing worth noting, Albus. Goodnight.” She looked around the quiet infirmary. Only one patient was being kept overnight, a student having a leg bone regrown after it had been accidentally replaced by a carrot during transfiguration class. Relaxing for the first time since she had learned the defense professor had been summoned that night, she finally chuckled at the leafy green toes.
The Headmaster ordered a pot of tea as he waited for Snape. He eyed his professor carefully when he walked in the door, knowing from experience that just because he was able to walk without assistance up to his office that he was not necessarily uninjured. He saw no signs of any physical damage but did not relax. He knew emotional damage was inevitable. He motioned to one of the chairs by the fireplace before taking the other one. “Sit down, my boy. Can I get you anything to go with our tea? Biscuits, perhaps, or some scones? Maybe a cucumber sandwich?”
Dumbledore felt more at ease when Snape disdainfully eyed the chair. The flowers on the chintz were slowly blooming and wilting only to bloom again. With a wave of his wand, Snape froze the pattern. Some nights Severus had returned too traumatized to complain about the chair.
The spy shook his head. “This will be a brief report.” He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Arkady Spellman from the Office of Department of Magical Equipment Control is dead. Someone learned he was the Secret Keeper for a safe house. The house is still safe.”
Dumbledore looked unseeing into his cup of tea. “He was a newer recruit to the Order. He impressed me with his determination to serve our cause.”
Snape opened his eyes but stared at the ceiling. “He was proud he was accepted. He mentioned it to a friend he ran into in Diagon Alley. Unfortunately, he was overheard by Owle Bullock. Bullock got the honor of casting the first curse.”
“I assume there’s no hope…”
Snape looked over to the headmaster in disbelief, amazed as always at the wizard’s optimism. “There’s hope that his body will be found, allowing his family some closure.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t count on it, however. Goyle was there, and his specialty is transfiguring dead bodies into stones. If his family stumbles over unexpected rocks on their sidewalk tomorrow, you might want to tell them to treat them with honor.” He paused. “I wouldn’t suggest having any children around if they plan to cast finite incantatem.”
Dumbledore took a sip of his cooling tea while thinking through various ramifications. “As I recall, his niece is a student here.”
Severus sat up again and cupped his hands around his mug of tea. “Nadia Spellman, third year Hufflepuff. I don’t know how close they were – Pomona should know.”
The headmaster was unsurprised at Severus’ knowledge of students in other houses. He wished all his professors were equally as interested in students from houses other than their own.
“Thank you, Severus. I know you felt helpless, but without you, the family would never have known what happened to their loved one.” He paused. “Did Tom want you to witness Arkady’s death for any particular reason?”
Snape responded by taking a sip of his tea.
The potions master sighed and carefully put down his cup on the table. “He wants the prototype potion next week.”
Dumbledore solemnly shook his head. “If Tom ever gets his hands on a potion which could temporarily alter a person’s magical signature it would be disastrous for the Order. We could no longer identify or track attackers. How long do you think you can delay without jeopardizing yourself?”
Snape looked into the flames. “Although the Dark Lord questions my ability, fortunately for me he has no one else in my field. I should be fine.” He found himself burying his true thoughts beneath his occlumency shields, unwilling to let his boss, mentor, and possibly even friend see his fear.
The Headmaster realized he was squeezing the handle of his cup so hard it was about to crack. He deliberately loosened his grip. He knew that being fine was relative. Sometimes he hated his responsibilities. “I’m sorry, Severus.”
Snape stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, Headmaster, I’m going to bed.”
Sighing, Dumbledore did the only thing he could do to help. “You’re at Hogwarts now, Severus. You can lower another occlumency shield.”
Snape bowed his head briefly in acknowledgement. “Thank you.” He prepared himself and then did so. He was instantly hit by a bout of intense pain, though knew if he had waited any longer the pain would be even more penetrating.
Dumbledore stood, watching him carefully. “I’m here, Severus.”
Snape blinked and stood straighter. Striking out at others, if only to a small degree, minimized the resultant pain, but he would not lash out at the one person who had given him a second chance, one he didn’t deserve. Maintain control, he told himself.
The Headmaster sighed. His offer to take the brunt of Snape’s outburst was always refused. He knew that Severus would restrain himself from truly harming any student but that anyone caught by him in violation of any school rule would be subject to an excoriating lecture and forfeiture of a massive amount of house points. The Headmaster had given him tacit approval to vent his built-up anger on anyone he ran into in the halls. By allowing his potions master to lower his secondary shield now he had given him the opportunity to explode outwards on the way to his rooms, saving him agony.
As he walked back to his quarters, Snape felt fortunate to find four students out of bed. It felt good to be able to release some of his pain by savagely taking away points and assigning detentions to those who lacked the self-control to do something as simple as following school rules.
The following Friday night the Headmaster found himself unable to concentrate as he awaited Severus’ return. He paced in his office, keeping an eye on the silver device which would let him know of his potion master’s’ condition when he returned from being summoned. In the battles to defeat first Grindelwald and now Tom Riddle, he had been forced to send too many people off knowing they would be hurt or killed. He hoped Severus would only be mildly injured and then hated himself for wishing any pain on his professor and friend.
The bell within the silver device started chiming. With a sigh, he grabbed some floo powder and contacted the infirmary. The Healer appeared as soon as he called her name. It was obvious she had been anxious to hear from him. “Poppy, please prepare for a meeting,” he announce solemnly.
Poppy sighed. “I expected that. Fortunately, I have no patients tonight.”
As Snape stomped into the Great Hall on Monday morning for breakfast he cursed the timing of his previous summons. He’d spent the weekend in the infirmary and then his room recovering. He hated being a patient, helpless to defend himself, and he hadn’t even had the benefit of having a legitimate reason to avoid the dunderheaded students for a couple of days. Trust the Dark Lord to ruin a child-free weekend that he could have otherwise spent in his private lab.
He noticed that more owls than normal were delivering mail. Without giving any indication of doing so, he noticed which students were getting mail. He cursed to himself.
The Headmaster also noticed the increase in mail. Perhaps it was only a coincidence. He leaned over to the DADA professor. “Severus, would you be able to meet with me for a few minutes before class?”
Viciously stabbing his sausage with his knife and fork, Snape nodded. “I have an open period first block.”
“Thank you for coming, Severus. I presume you know why I wanted to talk with you?” Dumbledore motioned Snape to sit down in front of the fireplace. Severus froze the flowers on the chair in mid-bloom before complying. The Headmaster took his own seat in his overstuffed purple armchair.
“I assume you noticed the same pattern this morning that I did, Headmaster,” Snape responded dryly.
Dumbledore nodded. “The Slytherin table seemed to be getting a lot of mail.”
“As did students at other tables who have Death Eater parents,” Severus pointed out. “And not all Slytherins received an owl.”
“You’re right of course, Severus. I did not mean …”
“I know what you meant, Headmaster.” Snape took a breath. Control. “I can guess at least one common comment in many of the letters.”
“And that is?” Albus had his suspicions but wanted to hear it from his professor.
“They were advised that I am not in the good graces of the Dark Lord at the moment.”
“I was afraid of that. How will this impact you?”
Snape took a deep breath. “My classes will be more unruly than normal. You can expect a massive point loss from all the houses, other than Slytherin of course.”
Dumbledore drummed his fingers on the arm chair, incongruously sending colorful bubbles swirling into the air. “I’m not ordering it, but perhaps you can take a few points from deserving Slytherin students as well?”
Snape vehemently shook his head. “I will not do anything that will jeopardize their trust in me. They will be testing me, but if I am to have any hope at all of dissuading them from their parents’ path, I cannot make public retribution. You know the other professors don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s better if I keep discipline within the house.”
Dumbledore sighed. “You know your house best, Severus. Please try to keep the point loss to a non-record level.”
Snape stood up and gave the Headmaster a grim smile. “That, of course, depends on how the other houses respond to the instigation of my snakes.”
That Friday afternoon Severus headed to the staff conference room only after downing a concoction to get rid of a massive headache caused in equal parts by breathing too many fumes from incorrectly brewed potions and frustration from trying to keep miscreants in line. Although he hated forced social activities, he couldn’t turn down opportunities to find out what was going on outside the classroom.
He was sorry the moment he walked through the door. Hearing the gaiety of the ongoing conversations, he knew the other professors had not experienced the same discipline issues he had faced this past week. He took his usual chair in the corner and tapped the end table next to him, ordering a cup of strong coffee. Leaning back with the hot cup in his hand he began to absorb the conversation. He instantly was even more sorry he had come. Flitwick and Sinistra were comparing upcoming vacation travel while Hooch was telling Vector about a new racing broom factory she was considering investing in. Snape knew staying would not teach him anything he didn’t already know. He sighed and stood up, but before he could take a step the Headmaster arrived.
“Good afternoon, everyone!” Dumbledore said with his infernal jollity. “Another week of studies completed. I trust everyone enjoyed the opportunity to impart knowledge?”
Vector snorted. “To the handful who were truly interested, perhaps.”
Flitwick nodded vigorously. “And you only have those who want to study. First years aren’t bad – they generally are fascinated by their newfound ability. But by the time they’re third years, they don’t appreciate the caress of magic.”
Despite their words, the astronomy and charms professors were entirely too cheerful.
“Ah, but eventually they will understand the true beauty of what we teach,” smiled Sprout.
“Only if the cretins manage not to blow themselves up before they reach that point, which I doubt any are capable of,” Snape grumbled.
Sinistra raised her teacup in his direction. “Even I heard about the disasters in the dungeons this week. Did I hear six students were sent to Poppy from rather inventive curses while engaged in inter-house fighting?”
“Two. The other four I was able to treat myself,” Snape responded grumpily. “But I wasn’t able to save several of the desks. How they managed to destroy guaranteed destruction proof furniture I have no idea.”
The gentle laughter around him did not bother Snape. He recognized that they were commiserating with him.
Dumbledore shook his head. “I’ll add some money to the defense budget for replacements. Would you like to join me in my office so you can go over your specifications and give me an estimate?”
“Of course, Headmaster,” Snape responded, knowing it was not really a request. There was no reason to fight a losing battle. Control.
On the walk up to the Headmaster’s office, Dumbledore talked of inconsequential matters to which Snape had only to grunt in reply. As soon as they were in the office, the Headmaster cast several privacy wards but he did not open the conversation until they were seated before the fire.
“I’m sorry to hear about your week, Severus.”
“I knew it would happen. Unfortunately, with the loss of the support of half of the small number of students who I can rely on to keep order, disaster is inevitable.” Snape reached into his robes. “However, I did have time in the evenings to complete this prototype. Once ingested, it will strengthen a person’s skin for three hours. They will not be able to withstand a major slashing hex if aimed directly at them, but they will be impervious to cutting spells as well as to reflected hexes.” He realized Dumbledore could detect his pride in his new creation though few others could.
The Headmaster leaned forward. “Amazing! This will help the Order tremendously when preparing for a raid. I’m very glad you’re on our side, Severus.”
Snape let the honest praise sink deeply through his mental shields so that he could review it at leisure.
Dumbledore took the vial and held it up to the light. “Amazing,” he repeated. He put it carefully down on his desk. “I’m sorry, Severus, that once again you cannot publish anything about your marvelous creations”.
Snape smiled bitterly. “I’m used to it. I can’t publish even my harmless discoveries because then the Dark Lord would expect more from me. If Order members knew what I invented and revealed that information, either accidently or under torture, I would die. I don’t dare create the potions the Death Eaters would like to have because I know how they will be used. As a result, I look incompetent to everyone and am a disappointment to my potions mentor.” He looked, unseeing, at the fire. “I assume that is why the others were celebrating receiving their annual bonuses in the staff room whereas none was awarded to me.”
The Headmaster leaned forward and reached out his hand to briefly touch Severus’ arm.
“Unfortunately, the Board of Governors rejected my request for both an annual raise and a bonus.”
Snape nodded, his bitterness apparent. “This year, even the Dark Lord supporters voted against me, and of course Ministry supporters haven’t supported me since the end of the last war, convinced I never changed sides.”
“I have my own funds, Severus. I am awarding you the bonus you deserve despite the Board’s vote.”
“I don’t need your charity, Headmaster,” Snape snarled. He stood up.
Dumbledore stood up as well. “Severus, I know you’re frustrated. Please, accept my thanks. Someday your role will come out, and you will receive the recognition you deserve.”
Snape took a deep breath. “Hopefully, that day won’t come out before the Dark Lord is soundly defeated.” He looked down at Dumbledore’s arm. “Though I don’t have much hope that Potter will be ready soon enough.”
“Severus,” the Headmaster called just as he reached the door. The professor paused. “Before you go any further, lower two more of your shields.” He sighed. “There are numerous students about needing your discipline.” Snape did not turn around, but nodded gratefully.
After he left, the Headmaster turned to watch his mirror of the house cup point counter. As the gems rapidly flew up indicating points were being taken away, he sighed again. With all his power, he could do so little to help one of his two most critical soldiers delay Tom’s plans. Closing his eyes in resignation, he acknowledged that Snape was truly on his own in his dangerous dance with Voldemort.