|A Matter of Malevolence
Author: RuthanneReid PM
Sometimes, perspective is everything. From day one at Hogwarts, Severus Snape had problems, half of his own making, half not how one interprets those problems depends entirely on one's point of view. At least with Severus, one principle is always consisteRated: Fiction M - English - Severus S. & Sirius B. - Chapters: 7 - Words: 35,568 - Reviews: 57 - Favs: 27 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 11-04-06 - Published: 08-06-03 - id: 1463493
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Matter of Malevolence, Part Seven
Portraits. There were bloody, blasted, bedamned portraits everywhere, and they were taking over his life.
There were portraits that snickered at him when someone cursed him in the hall. There were portraits that offered advice when tests and projects were due. There were portraits singing, portraits sharing frames, portraits that contained women who coquettishly flirted at the Potters and Blacks of this world but ignored Severus, portraits guarding doorways or hidden passages, and portraits that featured prominently in quizzes for History of Magic.
That last part was of particular interest to him.The Four Founders did what they could to keep the castle "alive" in a myriad of ways, including the addition of sentient suits of armor, prattling portraits, and a free pass to all ghosts who wanted to set up residence here - as long as they abided by the rules, of course. Salazar Slytherin was particularly interested in collecting portraits with a unique history or incidental powers, and was personally responsible for the gift of the "Fat Lady," who currently guards the entrance to Gryffindor tower.
Oh, ho! So the unpleasant, pink-clad bitch was a gift from Slytherin to Gryffindor? Severus couldn't help but see the humor in that.Of course, most of the original portraits and magical items have long lost their charm and been re-spelled or replaced due to (mostly) accidental destruction. One of the few notable exceptions to this rule is the portrait on the second floor of the school entitled, "Power to Hold the World." Apparently the portrayal of an ancient Knight of Walpurgis, this portrait has not only retained its charms, but - to the frustration of many a headmaster - is seemingly impossible to either move or damage. Salazar Slytherin clearly meant it to remain as long as Hogwarts itself still stood.
Severus stared at the book and read the passage again. Then he took out his quill and read it again, this time marking the important bits. He read it a third time.
Salazar Slytherin HIMSELF had placed Power to Hold the World on the wall. His own ancestor, put there by Slytherin. Severus experienced something then that, as a half-blood, he'd never known before: pride in his family tree.
The Prince line must have really been something, once upon a time.
A gasp from the doorway disrupted his reverie. Severus looked up to find Widdershins - again - standing in the doorway, seemingly surprised to find Severus in the bedroom when nobody else was around. They eyed one another for a long moment, and then Widdershins spoke.
"You like it in here, don't you," he said in tones of distinct unhappiness.
"Yes," replied Severus, wondering what on earth Widdershins wanted.
Instead of replying, Widdershins turned on his heel, walked out, and was gone.
"Weirdo," Severus murmured, and turned back to his studies. There was no mention in this passage of the second portrait on the first floor, which was strange. He scanned the passages for further references, but there was only one.It is of some note that many of the charms were made to be culturally relevant. Modern English, for example, is spoken by most charmed items within the castle, rather than the language spoken when those things were made. This changes with each generation, although other trappings such as painted clothing and written or carved words remain as they were when created. One notable exception is "Power to Hold the World," in which the sole occupant's clothing appears to change and keep pace with the standards in each generation. Why and how this was done is a mystery. Various minds believe that the subject was painted naked and, in an attempt to avoid offense, charmed to appear clothed using the viewer's imagination. In truth, however, no one really knows.
The chapter promptly switched subjects to something boring regarding the greenhouses, and Severus lost interest. He took a deep breath and began ticking off facts.
One: the portrait in the first floor corridor had seen him, and the portrait on the second floor corridor had known about it, so somehow, they were connected. All right; that was one issue to deal with.
Two: The portrait contained Veneficus Princeps, who was not only his ancestor, but apparently a "Knight of Walpurgis," whatever the hell that was. Hogwarts, a History didn't elaborate on that; he'd have to look it up himself.
Three: Salazar Slytherin had put the portrait there himself. That in itself was an entire wealth of wonder that needed to be explored.
Four: Veneficus was rude, abusive, obnoxious, and foul; to boot, whatever Slytherin had done when he put the portrait there, it was done for good. No one had been able to silence the portrait or take it off the wall - and given the way Veneficus acted, it came as no surprise that others had tried.
Five: There were two of them, damnit.
All of this was fascinating, but Severus wasn't sure it was actually getting him anywhere. Why, for example, had Montgomery and the Grey Lady gotten involved with his ancestor's portrait in the first place? What the HELL had it done to Montgomery, for that matter, and were both the crazy one and the "kind" one the same person or not?
Severus put down his quill and gripped the hair on both sides of his head, rubbing and tugging at once as though to give his brain more room to think. This would require some empirical observation, that was all there was too it. Slipping off his bed and taking parchment and quill with him, Severus left the dungeon and went to the first floor corridor.
He sighed. "What do you want, you ugly, skinned little rabbit?" he said.
Severus didn't give himself time to puzzle over that insult. "I want to know why there are two portraits," he said.
"That's nice," his ancestor replied congenially. "I want to know why your dick's so small you can't wank off, too, but some mysteries are better left unprobed."
Oh, gods. There was no response to that. "Answer me," Severus demanded, trying to keep on track. "I'm your family member. Whatever the hell you were doing to Montgomery resulted in a beating and a broken back for me, which were both your fault. You have to answer me!"
Veneficus stared at him with horrible intensity for such a long time that Severus nearly lost his nerve, and then he did something even worse: he began to laugh. He laughed uproariously, gloriously, hard enough that he doubled over his horse (which seemed to be expressing its own version of merriment) and - dear hell, were those tears?
"My fault!" Veneficus spurted, curled onto his horse's mane; he'd nearly dropped his potions. "You get more stupid with every generation! My fault! Bahahaha!"
Severus left, and the laughter followed. That had been unpleasant, but not completely unexpected; jogging as quickly as he could, he raced up to the second floor and the portrait that resided there.
It snickered at him. "My fault," said Veneficus, and Severus nodded, pleased. So far, so good.
"Yes, it is. So what are you going to do about it?"
"I'll proclaim your name from the halls forever, shouting to every generation that indeed it was my fault that Severus Snape has a pitiful wang, my fault that he cannot handle children only moderately older than he is, my fault that he cannot fly on a broom without bruising his arse, my fault that no one likes him, my fault that no one loves him, my fault that his own parents would rather he stay here over Christmas break so they don't have to look at the pitiful creature his mother squeezed from between her legs - "
That was enough of that. Veneficus had started out ridiculous but ended hitting far too close to home for Severus' taste; moving quickly, Severus raced back down the steps toward the first floor portrait again, and tried to pretend that his heart was only pounding because he'd run.
The portrait downstairs was still laughing; Veneficus wiped his eyes on his sleeve as Severus approached.
"The one upstairs is bigger," Severus announced at it to keep conversation rolling, and in response, for some reason Veneficus slid gracefully off his horse to the ground.
"Mmm," he replied. He placed the potions carefully in the grass, then walked to the very foreground of his portrait where he could loom.
Arms crossed, Veneficus grinned down at his descendent, showing too many teeth and such wide eyes that he looked ready to devour him whole. Severus stepped back. The portrait was too big; Veneficus looked real. He looked real enough to be dangerous.
"And now you're going to try to figure me out," Veneficus said with such condescension it made Severus' jaw hurt. "When better men than you have tried, older men, and wiser, and far better educated. You disgust me, Severus Snape. You're repulsive. Disgusting. If this is all my line's come to, then I hope your enemies win. I hope they manage to destroy you, to murder you, to leave you weeping for death with snot sliding between your sniveling lips, and when it comes, I hope I'm there to watch."
"So my parents still want me to stay here over break?" said Severus, forcing himself to remain focused and trying to pretend words could never hurt him.
Veneficus' smirk faltered. "What?" he said.
"Ah HA!" Severus cried, pointing in victory. And then, he ran away.
Breathless by the time he reached the dungeon but flushed with triumph, Severus flung himself onto his bed and laughed. It wasn't a terribly nice laugh. It rose the ceiling like a torturer's cackle, leaping cruelly through the air vents and startling the first years who were studying in the common room. It carried both the pain of what Veneficus had said and the pleasure in the knowledge that Veneficus had been tricked.
He sighed; then his smile faded. What, in truth, had he actually accomplished?
Well, he'd tricked the first floor portrait into showing it didn't know what the second floor portrait did. Maybe. Well, it was that, or his comment had been too obscure to understand.
Damn. He couldn't be sure.
- that his own parents would rather he stay here over Christmas break so they don't have to look at the pitiful creature his mother squeezed from between her legs -
That wasn't true. It wasn't. Was it? It wasn't. Severus refused to accept this poison. Besides, Christmas break was right around the corner; he hadn't signed up to stay. He was going home. Of course he was going home. His parents weren't fabulous, but they wanted him there. He was completely, absolutely sure that they did.
The next night at dinner, the owl changed his mind.
For his part, Severus had never seen anything like Christmas done Hogwarts-style.
Garlands, candles, baubles, snow, ornaments, costumes, sparkles and incredibly good smells colluded together to overwhelm the senses. The food even changed; it tended to be holiday-themed now, with things like pie-crusted, cherry-covered ham followed up by red and green chocolate mints that sang when you ate them. It was honestly a little intimidating; the only familiar bit was the Christmas trees planted all over the castle, and none of them looked like the dusty, plasticine abomination his father brought down from the attic every December first.
And it was so warm.
Cold outside, but warm in the castle. Warm in the dungeons, warm in the Great Hall, warm in the classrooms - it was like being embraced, all the time, by Hogwarts playing mother. Severus was finding it difficult to be inherently unpleasant when so very comfortably warm. No one seemed to have noticed, but he had smiled at least twice in the last few days. It was all so very odd.
The train was leaving tomorrow; he'd packed his things. Everyone around him seemed thrilled to be leaving, and yet... and yet Hogwarts was beginning to feel almost like home in an entirely different way. Was that normal? Was it a sign of being a bad child? Why did he feel this way? The more he chewed it in his mind, the less he liked its flavor, and yet he could not deny it: a small part of him wanted to stay here forever.
And then, a snowy owl landed in his chocolate pudding and splattered it all over hell.
"Gah!" he cried, along with anyone else in the blast zone, and the owl - as if its poor flying were his fault - snapped its beak at him a few times and shook its leg nearly violently. On its leg and under the pudding, Severus could read his name.
Severus sputtered. Ignoring the other students (who were coming up with some truly inventive expletives), he plucked the letter from the owl - which tried to bite him - and opened its sticky folds.
Dear Severus, it began in his mother's handwriting, and somehow, he already knew.
Your father's mother has taken very ill, and we are going to see her. She's in a Muggle hospital in Scarborough; they say she isn't going to last the week. I'm afraid, my son, that they only allow two visitors for her at a time. Tobias and I felt that you would have a very miserable Christmas watching your grandmother die, even though this is a side of the family you've never met, so it seems best to us that you stay at Hogwarts through the turn of the new year. I've stayed there then, and it's a bit lonely, but not bad; you can work on your potions and Latin. I've already informed the headmaster.
We're expecting great things of you, Severus. You have no excuse to fail.
Mother and Father
And in an entirely different handwriting -
P. S. Don't expect any presents. The postman couldn't find your school if his life depended on it.
Severus took a deep breath and held it. This all seemed too much to process right away, so he took it piecemeal and read it again.
Right. It seemed he'd be staying here over the holidays after all. Right.
"Everything all right, Severus?" came a familiar voice, and Severus looked up to see Malfoy peering at him from across the table. He'd somehow managed not to get any pudding on him, a fact for which his neighbors looked extremely disgruntled.
"Yes." The word was out of his mouth almost before the last s of his name had been spoken. "Why? What do you want this time?"
"I'm only asking, Severus, because you've turned pistachio green. You usually look sort of almond-colored, so I thought it wise to check," said Malfoy in the tone of one who knows the explosion is coming but tries to avoid it anyway.
"I'm fine!" Severus became aware that he'd shouted it, and because of that - and the pudding - people were staring at him. Oh gods. No. "I said I'm FINE!" he stated more loudly, as if that would turn the attention away.
Malfoy glanced around as well and smiled. "Little accident with the pudding, no worries!" he said cheerfully, and took out his wand. A moment or two passed while he spelled the people around him, saving Severus and the rueful owl for last; when it was finally clean, the owl snapped at Severus one more time before flying away.
"You just make everyone love you, don't you, Severus," Malfoy remarked, and Severus stood so quickly that his hips bumped the table and sloshed some of his pumpkin juice onto the cloth.
"I'm leaving," he announced.
"All right. We all are tomorrow," Malfoy probed quietly.
Most attention had drifted away from Severus at this point. They were beginning to grow used to his fits. "I'm not," he replied, and folded up his newly-cleaned letter.
Malfoy was studying his hands. "You're shaking," he pointed out. Severus was saved from replying by a voice from the head table.
"All right, everyone!" Dumbledore announced, hands up for silence. "Tomorrow, the trains are leaving for London at ten A. M. sharp, as you well know. Make sure you've checked everything you'll need for the holidays, and speak to your prefects before you leave. Have a wonderful holiday!" With that, the entire hall broke into boisterous cheers; they knew a semester's official end when they heard one, and began streaming out into the hall to return to their rooms.
Severus stood where he was, like a rock in a river, watching them go. The letter remained in his hands.
Malfoy watched him but said nothing, and Severus did not move until the hall was empty of everyone but just the two of them. Severus didn't even glance Malfoy's way when he finally left the hall. Whatever issue he carried in his thoughts left no room for anything else.
Veneficus looked very puzzled as his descendent ran away. "What the fuck did that mean?" he asked of the empty hall, then frowned. "Did the little prat just go mad while I was watching him?" There was of course no answer, or none that any but him could hear. He glanced around the hall; no one was near. Sure of his solitude, Veneficus let his shoulders sag, and his countenance slowly changed. Sorrow, grave and bitter, replaced the arrogance twisting his mouth; endless years came to rest in his black eyes, and they seemed both heavy and painful. "They're all destroyed," he whispered thickly, and then the person he least wanted to see came striding around the corner.
"You're off your horse!" said Dumbledore as he approached the portrait. "How lovely. Does that mean you're up for a game of chess?" Cheerful, horribly friendly, he held up a chessboard and a baggy full of pieces.
If Veneficus had had spines, they'd be bristling. "No," he said, keeping his back to the headmaster, and bent to retrieve his potions.
"Oh, come now, it's nearly Christmas," chided Dumbledore, pulling up a chair he'd conjured from nowhere. "The students are all leaving tomorrow, the halls will be empty, and you'll be bored. Let's have a bit of fun, hm?"
"You've had too much 'fun' already, you wrinkled baboon," Veneficus replied distractedly and without much energy. "Any more fun and your arse will loosen, and all the rats will get out. However will you make your arbitrary decisions then?"
Dumbledore's smile was replaced with a compassionate look of understanding, of knowing, and in that moment, Veneficus loathed him more than ever. "Veneficus... what happened?" The headmaster's voice had gone softer, gentler and - Ra help them all - caring.
Veneficus remained where he was, clenching his potions to the point of white knuckles. He scowled up at the formidable darkness in his sky as though seeking strength not to explode. "Nothing. Thanks to you, nothing. Thanks to the fantastic job you did destroying my family, nothing. There will never be anything but nothing, now."
Dumbledore had set up the table, the board, and all the pieces - giving Veneficus white - and taken his seat. "You're morose tonight. I don't think I heard a single four-letter word in that entire speech."
Veneficus turned to face him, and fury took the place of his melancholy. "You're a bastard!" he opined.
"That's better. Come now, what shall your first move be, hm?"
There was a long moment of silence. "The little shit is going to die," Veneficus said, "And there's no one left to take his place. THAT'S what your meddling has done. My family's going to end, and it's all your fault."
"You said your family ended seven generations ago, Veneficus, but it hasn't seemed to."
"It HAS! And now they're going to be finished completely!" Veneficus stomped his foot.
"Veneficus, I do try to keep harm from coming to the students of my school," Dumbledore chided mildly, then stilled. "If there is a specific threat to him, Veneficus... you need to tell me."
Veneficus was silent for a long, long time. Then suddenly, he flopped into the grass in the front of the portrait like a recalcitrant child. "Pawn to E4."
"As you wish," replied Dumbledore, both in response to the chess move and the refusal to specify the threat.
And upstairs, scowling, Veneficus Princeps muttered invectives against the man who'd ruined his family, then turned away from the chess game he didn't really want to watch.
He mounted his horse, turned the animal, and cantered down behind the painted hill until he was out of sight to anyone who might be in the hall. He rode until he came to the darkness, which had drifted down - as if sentient - to meet him at the hill's base. He dismounted.
Head down but face determined, Veneficus strode almost at a run into that darkness as though it were his only salvation, as though it were his only refuge, and it swallowed him without a trace.
Downstairs, the Veneficus in the first-floor portrait lost the match.
back to :: hp fanfic :: back to writings :: part eight - under construction