Though this be madness, yet there is a method in't. — Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
Boys will be boys. Isn't that what they always say?
Of course, that is little consolation when the first boy is a werewolf one is trying to protect, the second a hapless victim, and the third threw the others together during the full moon as "just a bit of a joke."
I am convinced deep within myself that Sirius did not expect any real harm to befall Severus—and of course no physical harm has—but I never thought their mutual dislike would have escalated to this point. Not that Sirius would hesitate to harm Severus given the opportunity, or vice versa. They have both shown they are not above a well-placed curse at an opportune moment. No, it is that Sirius would try to hurt Severus at Remus' expense that perplexes me. Then again, he has always been a bit rash, and even more so when he is excited by the chase.
I suppose I should have seen this coming, after the spectacle James and Sirius made of Severus last term following their Defence OWL. My arrival on the scene was the only thing that kept James from removing Severus' underpants for all the world to see, I am sure. With that act, James had upped the stakes quite a bit. Little wonder Sirius did something so outlandish: he was trying to compete. And it appears that Remus has less influence over his friends than I had hoped.
Perhaps I am slowing up. That tends to happen when one passes the century mark, or so I'm told. Since I have now logged one and a quarter centuries, I am feeling my age. Or it could be the war. Young Mr Riddle is beginning to show quite the aptitude for spreading discord.
Normally I find that hot chocolate clears my head, yet tonight my mug remains full of the beverage, now tepid with distraction. I fancy I could have drunk gallons upon gallons and still have no more conception than before of how this might have happened. I may need to get myself a Pensieve. I have heard that they help immensely in these types of situations.
I have handled this all so poorly, and Severus must think me the most ruthless tyrant imaginable. After all he has been through tonight, I told him in no uncertain terms that he cannot tell anyone Remus is a werewolf. Imagine that: forcing him to keep the secret of someone he now considers a monster. But I also tried to make it clear that he could come to me to talk about this, or anything else, any time he felt the need. I hope he will take me up on the offer, although I suspect he will not. He keeps too much inside—far too much for a boy his age.
That I have failed him is painfully obvious, as it always is when a student is brought to one's office stinking of his own urine. Between the staff, the portraits, and the ghosts, little that transpires at this school escapes my notice, so why did I not see this until it was too late? Have I been so very blind? If so, then no more. I shall have to watch Severus carefully for any lingering effects of tonight's events. Such things almost always have unforeseen consequences.
I ought to have known better. Whenever Gryffindors are involved, the stench of rat hangs heavy in the air. Something about Lupin's frequent "illnesses" intrigued me, however, and if solving the puzzle meant uncovering grounds to get them all expelled, all to the good. Therefore I was much too anxious to listen to Black. I ought to have known better.
Now I know the answer, I cannot imagine why I didn't see it before. I'm the top of my Dark Arts class and always have been. We learnt about werewolves in third year. Why didn't I work this out before now? Why didn't I at least plot Lupin's illnesses on a calendar? Instead I had to take a jaunt down into that tunnel under the Whomping Willow at Black's command. I ought to have known better.
"Idiot boy! His marks are abominable. They'll probably throw him out of that voodoo school any day now."
I even decided to forego my monthly trip to see my mother at St Mungo's to stay behind and visit Lupin—or should I say the beast he becomes? Not that Mother noticed my absence. She never even notices my presence, though I should hardly expect that she'll suddenly become chatty one day.
"With that spotty complexion and greasy hair ... I ought to throw him in the shower and scrub his skin raw."
Mother may not be good company any longer, but at least she doesn't haunt me as Father does. I was never good enough when he was alive, so I'm not surprised that he continues to criticise me after death, continually enumerating my lamentable inadequacies to my mother's unhearing ears.
Cliodna jumps into my lap, her purring even louder than the crackling logs in the hearth. Up on her back legs she goes, planting her front paws against my chest. After rubbing her cheeks against mine in greeting, she gives my nose a rough-tongued lick and settles into my lap. Her paws knit against my legs whilst she tries to find a comfortable position. I welcome the sting of needle-sharp claws puncturing my thighs through my robes. In my present world—comprised largely of unknowns—at least this pain is familiar.
Father has gone now. Cliodna frightens him, I think. She can apparently see the invisible ghosts that wizards cannot. Many times I've noticed her shooting a pointed glance at an unoccupied corner of the room, sensing something the rest of us don't. And if her presence means Father's departure, all the better.
She purrs and arches into my palm, occasionally looking up at me with half-closed silver eyes. We sit there, simply taking comfort in each other's company for the longest time. Even if everyone else has failed me and everything else in my wretched life proves an illusion, at least I have Cliodna. That's how it's always been. When Ophelia died, this little black kitten—then easily small enough to fit into my cupped hands—helped me cope with my grief, and she'll help me through this, as well. I know she will.
"Good kitty," I murmur, stroking her back and staring into the fire. "What would I ever do without you?"
Alastor would chastise me most vehemently for dozing in my office, I fancy. Though not conducive to constant vigilance, I find catnaps something of a necessity these days. Thankfully I never sleep too long, since the powerful racket of my own snoring often startles me awake. When it does this time, I hear something I dread even more: a rattling inhalation. My office, however, is neither cold nor dark. Another sound—the slow drip, drip, drip of otherworldly blood staining the floor—soon catches my attention. The Bloody Baron has come to call. I sit up slowly and readjust my spectacles.
As the portraits of former Heads in my office are bound to serve the current Headmaster, so must the ghosts do my bidding. One would never know that if one only judged by a certain poltergeist who attempts to get around his responsibilities at every opportunity, but it is nevertheless true.
I prefer to save the ghosts' services for the most dire of circumstances, so I rarely ask them for favours. It is not every day that one of them seeks me out, and the Bloody Baron, gaunt face staring down at me, is normally loath to announce his presence. He is a man of few words. When he does speak, only a great fool would be reluctant to listen. I like to think that I am not a great fool, so I nod in greeting and smile.
"How may I help your Excellency this fine afternoon?"
"I have come about one of the students," he rasps.
The baron's voice sounds like nails on an emery board, with an underlying clatter reminiscent of a dementor, possibly due to the many stab wounds through his lungs. Only with great determination can I suppress a wince. My mind immediately jumps to Severus, of course, and I fear the cold chill that washes over me has nothing to do with being in the company of a ghost. Is this what I have been dreading? I swallow hard.
"Has something happened?" I ask, willing my voice not to tremble, and I succeed for the most part.
He shakes his head slowly, vacant eyes softening. "Nothing urgent, but I thought you should be made aware."
My trepidation subsiding, I recline in my chair, resting my elbows on the arms and pressing my fingertips together. "Please continue."
The Bloody Baron takes an unneeded breath and nods.
"Snape. The boy has been sitting alone in a chair by the common room fire every night for the past few evenings in a bizarre pose—with one shoulder raised much higher than the other. He is there for hours on end, not speaking with anyone and not seeming to hear them when they speak to him. And he was petting his cat, talking to her exactly the way he used to."
My eyebrows rise. "The way he used to?"
"His cat has been dead and buried for over a year now, Dumbledore."
My head drops of its own accord as I regard the Bloody Baron over the top of my spectacles. Up until now, I had been puzzled as to why he would see fit to make this nondescript report. The posture is strange, no doubt, but not unduly distressing. And Severus has always been something of a loner, so his not speaking to others is quite understandable, especially after what he has recently endured. Furthermore, many Hogwarts students take solace in stroking their pets during stressful times—but usually only when those pets are still alive.
I cannot be sure, but I think I sit in silence for over a full minute. Something is definitely wrong with Severus, then. Clearly I will need to speak with him. I briefly wonder if the invitation I wish to extend would be better coming from the Slytherin ghost or his Head of House. Well, the answer is obvious. Were Professor Slughorn to tell Severus to come to my office, the request would carry the weight of a command. I do wish to speak to him, but I do not want him to feel pressured.
"Might I trouble your Excellency to tell Severus that I would like to see him? At his earliest convenience, of course."
The baron nods once, turns, and glides from the room. Although this is a Hogsmeade weekend, a timid, irregular knock sounds at the door barely half an hour later.
"Come in!" I call, already affixing a warm smile to my face.
Severus enters, staring at the floor, and walks toward the chair in front of my desk. "Walks," however, hardly seems proper to describe his movements. His flat-footed steps appear to require great effort, as if his feet are mired in a peat bog, and when he pulls one free, the tremors reverberate throughout his entire body. When did his gait become so twitchy, I wonder? He never walked that way as a first year. The transformation must have been a series of infinitesimal changes for me not to have noticed before now. Finally he reaches his destination and sinks down in the chair, shoulders slumped and avoiding my eyes.
"How have you been feeling, Severus?" I begin with an encouraging smile.
"I haven't told anybody, Headmaster," he mumbles in a slow monotone, whilst staring at his lap. "About Lupin, I mean. I haven't—"
My smile has faded, and I hope against hope that this is not the reason he broke off. I did not want this summons to make the poor boy think he was in some sort of trouble, but how very wrong I was. The message "The headmaster wishes to see you," however congenial the delivery, apparently carries ineffable gravity to a sixteen-year-old.
I stand and walk around the desk, where I sit on the edge. "I know you haven't, m'boy," I say gently. "I trust you."
Severus grimaces after I've said this, as if he is experiencing great physical pain or perhaps trying not to cry. I cannot tell for certain which. But no sooner do I reach out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder and ask what is the matter than the expression passes away—as suddenly as it came—leaving his face utterly blank. I therefore draw my hand back, enfolding it with its mirror image in my lap.
Now I am closer, I also notice Severus' hands. They twitch and jerk, and he rubs them together as if trying to wipe something off his skin. He is evidently very nervous. The largest downside of being a terribly powerful wizard is one tends to intimidate those one least wishes to, including those one wants nothing more than to help. I fight down a sigh with some difficulty and force another smile.
"How have you been sleeping? Any nightmares?"
He only smiles and chuckles softly, which I take as a negative. After a long moment of silence, he adds, "I used to sleep with a cat fur blanket."
Again my eyebrows rise. The phrase "a cat fur blanket" means nothing to me, but admittedly I am bit of an old codger and am therefore frequently behind the times. At least I think that is what he said. I may not have heard him correctly. Perhaps he meant "a cat for a blanket." That makes little more sense, I will admit, but that statement would be more probable physically, if not logically. Regardless, I think I will have Madam Pomfrey check my hearing again. Severus continues to smile when he tells me a moment later that his cat has died.
"Yes, I heard. I am very sorry, Severus."
"Old cat, Cliodna." He shrugs and smiles still, which unnerves me, I must admit. From the Bloody Baron's description earlier, he appeared to have been quite fond of his pet ... at least at one time.
"And how are your lessons?"
The eerie, out-of-the-proper-context smile fades from his face then. "Don't like History of Magical Creatures."
History of Magic and Care of Magical Creatures are, of course, two entirely different classes, with separate professors and scopes. The pupils, however, often have some very creative names for these two largely unpopular classes. Impertinent fellow that he has always been, Severus would be no exception I expect, so I pay the moniker no undue mind.
"Is there any particular reason you did not go to Hogsmeade with the other students today?"
Now he laughs, but other than that, he does not answer. Nor does his face reflect even the tiniest hint of mirth. I shouldn't be surprised, and I suppose that question was somewhat insensitive of me. Why should he wish to go to Hogsmeade? I doubt he feels much like socialising these days.
"Very well, Severus," I say finally, although my forehead can but contract into a worried frown. "You may go. But do feel free to drop by any time you wish to talk. My door is always open."
He nods, still avoiding my gaze, and then rises from the chair. Again he twitches from the room. After he has closed the door, I sink back into my chair with a heavy sigh. I have seen a similar melancholy in children his age more often than I care to remember, but I do not believe the boy was being intentionally uncommunicative. Something in me yearns so badly to have him open up to me, to tell me all his fears and worries. If only I could get through to him that he can, in fact, trust me.
Instead of our short interview's easing my mind, I am only more anxious than before. His manner does not sit well with me ... rather like a heavy but wholly unsatisfying meal.
The old prune is in my face, red from forehead to neck. Though I sit rigid with my wand poised, the guinea hen is gone from my desk, not having been turned into a guinea pig.
Cross-Species Switches. Yes, yes, yes.
I thought when I'd failed to scrape an acceptable OWL that I'd be done with this rubbish. Those with parental permission can forego repeating classes, of course, and those who are of legal age can choose not to, as well. But as I'm still only sixteen and my parents cannot consent to anything, I have to take Transfiguration again—with fourth-years, no less. I don't even enjoy my Potions and Dark Arts lessons the way I used to. Why should I give a damn about this? At least I'll be seventeen next month. Then next term I can leave both McGonagall and Trans-fucking-figuration far behind.
"Would it be too much trrrouble for you to concentrate on the lesson, Misterrr Snape?"
She's been trying to get my attention for a while now, I think. But that spot on the blackboard was much too fascinating to be bothered with looking away. Now she's stopped screeching—and demonstrating just how long any good Scotswoman can draw out a word with an R in it—blood recedes from the ruddy skin. Her pinched nostrils glow against the red, like lighthouses in a harbour of gore. Even with a shoreline made entirely of coal, the emeralds are out of place. That strikes me as quite amusing, so I laugh. And laugh. And laugh. But it doesn't sound like me.
McGonagall doesn't know what to think, I can tell. She blanches, making the emeralds stand out even more. I laugh harder. They're all staring at me now. I see it, I feel it, I smell it, even. I can smell their putrid eyes fixed on me. Or is that smell coming from McGonagall? From the rotting harbour in her face?
Finally my muscles melt, and I can move again. I set down my wand on the desk in front of me, and the smell grows suddenly sharper. Is that stench coming from my hands? I raise them to my nose and sniff, happy to have pinpointed the source of the odour, even if my stomach turns in the process. Can McGonagall smell it, too? Is that why she looks queasy? No one else can usually smell what I smell...
The thin lips move again, but I can't make out what she's saying. All I hear is the constant droning of my father's criticisms and my own breathing as I inhale and expel repeated gulps of foetid air. I didn't have Potions today, so why do my hands reek so? Or did I have Potions, and I just don't remember? I'm both fascinated and repulsed by the smell, so familiar and yet so disgusting, and I drink it in though I am about to gag.
"He can't fall back on his good looks and charm to get ahead. Hideous and can't talk to people, that one."
"Go away!" I hiss behind my hands at my father's commentary. "Can't you see I'm busy right now?"
Harbour-face inhales sharply as though I've slapped her. "Well." Her breath comes in short bursts, as if she might just explode. That would be a treat to see, I must admit. "You'll have plenty of time to think about your priorities tonight during detention."
The bell thunders in my ears. Transfiguration is my last lesson of the day ... or at least I think so. Do I have Potions today? Since I've no other class to hurry off to, this tower of ruddy-faced, white-nostrilled fury can now scream at her leisure. I might be amused, if I cared. When she's thoroughly exhausted her supply of invectives, or her voice—I can't be arsed to care about that, either—she presses her lips into a thin white line and points toward the door.
All I've managed to take away from her little lecture is that my detention will be with Madam Pomfrey immediately after I've finished my supper.
But I can't finish my supper. I can't even start eating. I sit at the table, arms folded over my chest, and stare at my plate. Someone's poisoned my food. Probably those damned Gryffindors again. I'm not surprised. They're jealous. They know I'm the One, and they're afraid of me. As well they should be.
I survey my deputy headmistress over the tips of my fingers where I have them pressed together. Minerva is clearly upset.
"You should have seen him! I called his name for no less than ten minutes, and he simply stared at me. Not even at me—through me! When he finally deigned to respond, he just sat there, smelling his hands, of all things. So I asked him if there was something wrong, and he had the nerve to tell me to go away because he was busy!"
Severus has always been insolent, but I suspect smiling at my colleague's obvious distress would serve no constructive purpose at this precise moment. My lips do twitch, but for the most part I succeed in keeping my face blank as I move my index fingers away from my mouth enough to speak.
"And what did you do?"
She exhales loudly, her shoulders dropping. "I gave him a detention."
Now resisting the urge to sigh is difficult, and Minerva has known me long enough to see that in my face. I will not pretend for a moment that Severus has ever been her favourite student, but I remind myself how she demanded most adamantly that Sirius be expelled after that awful prank. Bless her, she can certainly be overzealous at times, but I am sure she has the boy's best interests at heart, even if she cannot always keep that Celtic temper in check.
"Well, I was angry, Albus," she explains, to my expression as much as anything I might say. "But somehow I didn't think he was intentionally ignoring me this time. And talking to Poppy only confirmed that."
I nod and turn my gaze expectantly to Madam Pomfrey.
"He arrived twenty minutes earlier than I'd expected for his detention," she says, "and so I set him to scrubbing bed pans, whilst I went to my office to measure out some doses of potions. And I heard him at it for a bit, but then the scrubbing sounds stopped, although the water was still running. I knew he couldn't have been done so soon unless he'd used magic, so I went back in to scold him ... and..." She wrings her hands, biting her lip. "He was just standing there at the sink, staring at the wall. He had the pan in one hand and the brush in the other, but he was as still as death, even with the water spilling out of this filthy bed pan and all down his front."
I nod slowly as I process this information. Severus could never have been accused of being normal, I daresay. He has always been unpopular—even from his first year, and as such he has always been the object of ridicule. I cannot imagine that he would go out of his way to attract more unwanted attention, as these episodes seem to indicate.
This is far worse than I had feared. Something more than mere melancholia must have the boy in its grip. My first thought is instinctively that Riddle is somehow possessing him, but I quickly dismiss the notion. Surely that is not possible with all the protections on the school grounds. My thoughts have been dwelling on Tom Riddle a troubling amount these days.
I take a deep breath, and now I do sigh. "Poppy, have you any reason to believe that Severus might pose a danger to anyone—including himself?"
Madam Pomfrey frowns and thinks for a moment, but at last she shakes her head. "I can't imagine how catatonia alone might injure anyone, Headmaster, but..." She trails off with a worrisome exhalation.
"But?" I prompt, my eyebrows rising.
"Perhaps the staff should keep an eye on him especially." She casts a sidelong glance at Minerva, as if afraid to voice the root of her anxiety. Her concern for Severus seems to win out in the end, however, because she squares her shoulders and continues. "I shudder to think what might befall the boy if ... well, if certain students—were to happen upon him—in a vulnerable state."
Poppy rushes through the last bit of her statement, and Minerva stiffens visibly at the implications. As rabidly protective as she is of her Gryffindors, she cannot deny that some amongst their number have recently shown themselves quite capable of premeditated viciousness. And so she nods.
As do I. "Exactly what I was thinking, Poppy. And I was about to suggest the same course of action myself. In fact..."
I reach across my desk and pull the calendar toward me to make doubly sure I have no pressing appointments scheduled for this afternoon. Only a meeting with the Minister of Magic at half-past three, but I am sure that under the circumstances Madam Bagnold will understand if I am a bit tardy. I retrieve a scrap of parchment and my quill to scribble a note.
"I think I should call an emergency meeting of the staff as soon as possible to apprise them of the situation. Would you see that they are all informed, please, Professor?"
Minerva nods again and walks briskly from the office. When I have completed my explanations, I beckon to Fawkes, whose claws scrabble in a rather ungainly landing on my desk. Madam Pomfrey winces at the sound. The promise of an emergency staff meeting has evidently not laid all her fears to rest.
"We'll see that Severus is well taken care of," I tell her, attempting to reassure her as I attach the piece of parchment to my phoenix's leg. Fawkes then disappears in a puff of smoke.
Poppy gives me an uncertain nod, but she heads for the door—still wringing her hands. At the ensuing staff meeting, I simply state that I have some concerns about Severus Snape, and I would appreciate it if the staff would note any unusual behaviour he might demonstrate. Now all I can do is wait for the next regular meeting in two weeks. I have spent far too much time waiting lately.