A Portrait of the Potions Master as a Young Man
By Daphne Dunham
Chapter 19: The Potions Master
Of course, despite Dumbledore's reassurances, Severus didn't feel like a very great man. In the days that followed, he had read various accounts of that night in The Daily Prophet – in The Evening Prophet – even in The Quibbler. He had listened to the headmaster and McGonagall and Hagrid as they relayed what had happened. In each telling, however the shades of it varied, certain events remained the same, forever unchangeable. It had been too late to save James and Lily; the cottage was destroyed; and in the end, the Dark Lord, despite being weakened, had managed to escape. It was a rather more bleak outcome than Severus had hoped for, and he wondered miserably if his efforts had done any good at all.
The child had been saved, though. Severus tried to comfort himself with that, at least. If Dumbledore hadn't sent Hagrid to Godric's Hollow when he did, Harry Potter, despite surviving the Dark Lord's curse, might have died in the wreck and flames of that cottage. The boy was hidden now, whisked off to Surrey to live with that Muggle sister of Lily's. Severus could have thought of a number of more practical and perhaps safer places for the child to stay, but Dumbledore knew his situation better. Like Severus, the headmaster knew the truth: despite the triumphant declarations in the newspapers and on street corners, they had not seen the end of the Dark Lord. It was inevitable that he would return, that he would surpass the wicked glory of his first attempt to seize power. When that day came, it was important that Harry Potter be prepared to confront and defeat him.
In more self-indulgent moments, Severus would resent the fact that his child had died while James Potter's lived. His blood would burn at the thought that Harry Potter was destined for the fate Severus had so badly wanted, that it would be James' son alone who could truly defeat the Death Eaters that he had vowed vengeance upon. Even in death, it seemed, James continued to mock Severus.
"I failed, Jane," Severus whispered through the shadows of the catacombs. He traced his fingertips longingly over the engraving of her name on the tomb. "I tried to make things right… but a child succeeded where I could not – Potter's child, at that."
Severus shook his head in a mixture of sadness and disgust. Days had passed, and he was still grappling with the cruelty of it all. He was slowly regaining his strength, at least, and Madam Pomfrey had finally permitted him to take short walks around the castle and grounds. He didn't venture far, only to the catacombs or the headmaster's office. Often times, this was enough to fatigue him, and upon a well-intentioned scolding from Madam Pomfrey, he'd be forced to return to the secluded Slytherin chambers Dumbledore had allotted for his use.
It was that night that Severus found out about his father. He'd been tired of seeing the same headlines – such titles as "You-Know-Who Vanquished by Miracle Baby" and "Wizarding World Hails Boy Who Lived a Hero" – and he would have gladly tossed The Evening Prophet into the fire had a smaller article in the lower left corner of the front page not caught his eye. "Ministry Official Arrested on Charges of Dark Magic," it read. Beside it was a picture of a familiar scowling man with a hooked nose and icy black eyes being led out of the Ministry by Aurors. Severus blinked once in disbelief and then, barely breathing, began to read the article.
Darius Snape, Assistant Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and a member of the Wizengamot, was arrested last night in his offices pending an investigation into his use of Dark magic.
According to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Mr. Snape is accused of supporting You-Know-Who and is charged with 15 murders, over 50 counts of practising Dark Arts, leaking confidential Ministry information to You-Know-Who, and being instrumental in the attack on the Ministry earlier this week.
"We've been suspicious of Mr. Snape for years but have only just now been able to prove any direct link between him and You-Know-Who," said Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Mr. Snape was arrested following a nervous breakdown in the Ministry the morning after You-Know-Who's much-talked about encounter with The Boy Who Lived. Eye witnesses saw Mr. Snape vandalising Ministry property while repeatedly screaming that "the Dark Lord will return and smite those who stand against him!"
"He's gone mad – absolutely, raving mad!" said one witness, who refused to give her name. It is an opinion shared by this reporter as well.
Mr. Snape will stand before the Wizengamot for a public hearing tomorrow.
Severus stared at the article a long while. Lucius Malfoy had told him his first year at Hogwarts that his father was raising suspicions in the Ministry. Now, the truth regarding Darius' loyalties had been revealed. It didn't really surprise Severus that his father had been exposed at last. It didn't upset him, make him feel smug, or even bring him a twinge of relief. Instead, he felt nothing. The years of abuse and torment had made him numb to his father, had forced him to shut the older Snape out. Darius didn't deserve to evoke any feeling in him, Severus decided coldly. He lost the right to command his son's respect and affection the moment he first reached out to hit him.
Just because he was apathetic to Darius' fate, however, did not mean that he wasn't curious about it. As it had in his childhood, Severus' inquisitiveness got the better of him and, despite his pride and the protests of Madam Pomfrey, he found himself making his way to the Ministry of Magic the following afternoon. Severus had balked at the familiarity of the courtroom when he entered it. That great, chained chair in the center of the room and the hovering benches of the Wizengamot above were only too familiar to him. This, he realised, was Courtroom Ten – the same courtroom in which his mother had been sentenced to Azkaban fourteen years ago. As Severus slipped into a seat in the back of the crowded room, the memories of that day – of Bartemius Crouch's callousness and of Circe Snape's tears – washed over him in a wave of hot horror. Eerie, it was, that Darius' future should be determined in precisely the same fashion that his wife's had been.
"They say 'e's gonna get the Dementor's Kiss," the rather decrepit-looking wizard seated beside Severus wheezed excitedly to him.
Repulsed by the sour breath and tattered robes of the man next to him, Severus recoiled slightly. "Perhaps he deserves it," he replied icily before turning to face the front of the courtroom.
Before them, the hearing had already begun. Crouch was staring ominously down on Darius, eyes bulging and tone curt. "And even now, with dementors waiting outside the courtroom to escort you back to Azkaban, you insist you acted of your own free will, Mr. Snape?"
Darius sat straight up in his chair haughtily, the chains around his wrists clanking in loud confirmation of his ambivalence. "I make no excuses for my actions," he replied. "I only regret that in prison, there will be no more Muggles and Mudbloods for me to kill."
There was a chorus of appalled gasps and murmurings throughout the courtroom, and a furious flush rose in Crouch's face as he tried to restore order. "So you make no pretense of remorse for your actions then?" he demanded.
Darius glowered. "I will not renounce my master, if that's what you're asking me to do," he sneered. "I'm not so easy to waver in my loyalties under the threat of Azkaban like some of my fellow Death Eaters have been," he sneered. "I'm proud to count myself amongst the Dark Lord's most faithful – the Lestranges and the Malfoys and my son –"
At the mention of his name, Severus' heart stilled its thumping in his chest. He had already flirted with the boundaries of the law, and he was uncertain what consequences his father's exposure of his ties to the Death Eaters would have. His release from Azkaban had been difficult for Dumbledore to achieve, and he doubted the Wizengamot would be so forgiving in the future. It was only when he saw the icy grin coating Crouch's face that Severus eased back in his seat.
"The Malfoys, you say?" Crouch said with a snort. "Romulus and Lucius Malfoy have both been cleared by this court. They are fine members of the wizarding community who fell victim to the Imperious Curse." He paused then and leaned forward to relish the disgruntlement on Darius' face. "And as for your son… I assure you that Severus Snape is no Death Eater."
Darius looked as though he had just swallowed a flagon of armadillo bile. His entire face puckered into a confused, angry knot, and when he spoke, flecks of spittle flew from his mouth. "You're wrong – my son is a Death Eater! I raised him for it – groomed him for it!" he insisted, twisting wildly in his seat like a caged animal. "I saw him take the Dark Mark myself!"
Crouch clucked his tongue disapprovingly. "Severus Snape's wife and child were killed by Death Eaters," he explained condescendingly, as if he was speaking to someone slow or very young, "and he turned spy for us at great risk to his own life."
Severus had never seen his father look crestfallen before, and yet that was exactly what Darius Snape was. His face blanched, and he fell suddenly quiet. His mouth worked slowly, opening, closing, opening again, as he tried to comprehend the greatest disappointment of his life: his son had betrayed him, had betrayed the cause he'd been raised to believe in. "No… No, that can't be so… I trusted him!" Darius murmured dazedly. He looked up at Wizengamot, then out across at the crowd. "I trusted him!" he repeated, this time in a rabid howl.
He was still screaming moments later when Crouch ordered the guards to drag him out of the courtroom, out to the dementors who would silence him with a Kiss. Darius thrashed against the cords that bound him, spewed profanity at the crowds as he passed through the aisles of the courtroom, and, when he finally spotted Severus by the exit, his eyes narrowed to shrewd slits of disdain.
"Traitor, eh?" he sneered at his son, referring to the fact that Severus had been a spy. "Who would have thought that, despite it all, my son would have turned out so… decent." He spat the word as though it was an insult, as though decency was the last thing he expected Severus to possess after how he tried to raise him.
"Don't call me your son," Severus corrected him indignantly. "I stopped being that long ago. All we have in common is a name."
Darius bared his teeth. "You'll never be one of them, you know," he hissed with a nod towards the Wizengamot. "You're too much like me."
"I will never be like you, Darius," seethed Severus, his voice so dangerously low he could scarcely be heard.
But even as Severus said the words, they knew they were a lie. He may have chosen a slightly different path, but when it came down to it, he was exactly like his father – from the crooked nose and bitter disposition to the penchant for Dark Arts and ruined family. These similarities had not escaped Darius' notice, either, and his lips curled into that horrible, wicked grin Severus remembered seeing so often as a child.
"Pleasant to the last, my son," he laughed coldly as the guards pushed him forward.
And Severus paled, feeling strangely as though Darius had defeated him in the end. He stood, dazed and drowning and staring after Darius, as the courtroom emptied around him. He only moved when he felt a hand resting on his shoulder.
"Mr. Snape, a word, please?" said someone behind him. The voice was rich and lazy, and as Severus turned to face the speaker, he was not surprised to see the face of Lucius Malfoy before him.
For a moment, Lucius didn't speak. He only stared at him with those aloof grey eyes, surveying him with the exactness that he had years ago, when he was Head Boy and Severus was a mere first-year student at Hogwarts. Severus didn't dare to breathe as the aristocrat evaluated him. He had just been publicly exposed as a spy, and Lucius, despite having persuaded the Ministry otherwise, was as ardent a Death Eater as ever. Severus expected to be greeted with hostility, threatened with Cruciatus or even death for having betrayed the Dark Lord. What he did not expect was the grin of approval slowly tipping up the corners of Lucius' lips.
"Well done, Mr. Snape," Lucius said slickly, slipping his hand into Severus' in a firm handshake, "pretending to turn traitor. Fooling Dumbledore could not have been an easy task. I commend you."
Shaking Lucius' hand, Severus was astonished. If he was not mistaken, it seemed as though Lucius assumed that Severus had deceived the Ministry with promises of espionage as a means of self-preservation – that he'd claimed to be a turncoat much like several other captured Death Eaters had recanted their support of the Dark Lord or had made deals with the Ministry to avoid Azkaban. Lucius was, Severus realised, too blinded by his own pureblood prejudice to believe a confirmed Death Eater such as Severus capable of truly turning his back on their cause. The hook-nosed young man could have laughed aloud at the thought of what an impractical, delusional fool Lucius Malfoy was to presume such a thing, but he exhaled slowly with relief that he was not about to be threatened instead.
"We all do what we must to survive," Severus replied coolly, taking advantage of Lucius' assumption. He paused for a moment and raised an eyebrow knowingly before adding, "Including feigning the Imperious Curse, I suppose."
Lucius' smile broadened, and he laughed as though he and Severus had just shared a very private, very amusing joke. "Indeed," he said, "indeed." Pushing back his shoulders and thrusting his nose snootily in the air, he turned on his heel then and left the courtroom.
Even as he watched the older wizard leave, Severus knew he hadn't seen the last of Lucius Malfoy.
"Have you given much thought to your future, Severus?"
The hook-nosed young man looked up at the headmaster over the carpet bag. He'd accumulated only a few possessions – mainly some books and a change of robes – during his short stay at Hogwarts, and now that Madam Pomfrey had given him a clean bill of health, packing would not take him long. Farewells were never Severus' forte, and he'd have been just as happy to slip out of the castle without another word, but Dumbledore had insisted on stopping by before he left.
"Not really," Severus replied after a moment's hesitation. Over the past few months, he had thought about very little except destroying the Death Eaters and trying to stay alive while doing so. Now that the Dark Lord had been forced to retreat, the future stretched out like a blank, bleak abyss. Severus couldn't begin to imagine what he would do three days from now, let alone three months or three years ahead.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled warmly. "I understand," he said with a sympathetic nod. "So much has changed, and we have all had much to consider lately." He paused to hand Severus a pair of socks. "While you do your considering, though, I would be quite pleased if you would entertain the idea of staying at Hogwarts."
Severus looked up from the bag, socks still in hand. "Stay?" he asked skeptically, his habit of suspicion getting the better of him.
"If you are willing, of course," Dumbledore replied. "As you may be aware, we have two openings for professors – one for Defense Against the Dark Arts and one for Potions – and I would be honoured if you would apply for one of them. This school could greatly benefit from the wisdom and talents of a wizard such as yourself."
Teaching. If while a student in these walls a mere three years ago, anyone had ever suggested to Severus that he might someday return as a professor, he would have scoffed and said it was impossible. There were the odd hours, the insufferable staff meetings, the room after room of whining, disrespectful, snot-nosed children – not to mention Severus' own abundance of personality flaws that made him incompatible for the job – his lack of patience the least among them. That Dumbledore, knowing him as well as he did, would even propose such a thing to him seemed incomprehensible.
"Ever since Professor Viridian retired to write his books, we've had a discouragingly difficult time keeping a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher," the headmaster clarified upon seeing the younger wizard's reluctance. "Sadly, our most recent professor has just been escorted to Azkaban as a Death Eater. And, as you've noted yourself, this school lacks a competent Potions master."
Severus sighed, recalling the morning after Jane had died, when he'd sneered at the Sleeping Draught the headmaster had given him. "I have nothing but respect for Professor Cauderon," he said in a rare moment of pseudo-apology. "Perhaps his ingredients weren't fresh or he'd allowed one of his less-competent apprentices to have a go at the Draught."
The headmaster shook his head sadly. "Professor Cauderon, I'm afraid, did not make that potion, Severus," he explained softly. "Just after you left Hogwarts, he had an accident – a colleague of his did, rather. I'm sad to say that he lost his eyesight when the cauldron exploded. He insisted he wanted to retire anyway, and we do have him come back periodically to lecture our N.E.W.T.-level students, but we have not yet been able to find someone to fill his position permanently."
Severus looked away and fell oddly quiet. He owed so much of his success at Hogwarts to Professor Cauderon, and to say that he, hardened as he had become over the years, was not affected by this news would have been a lie. There were so many things he could have said about his former professor – how he had been, in many ways, more of a father to him than Darius Snape had been – how much Severus appreciated that the man was one of the few faculty members not duped by James Potter's charm – how, if it wasn't for Cauderon, he never would have married Jane or had the opportunity to work with Arsenius Jigger. When Severus opened his mouth to speak, though, he couldn't bring himself to admit such sentimentalities.
"Professor Cauderon was a truly great Potions master," he said instead.
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. Then, as seemed to be his habit directly before burdening Severus with something weighty, he peered over the rims of his spectacles. "He always expected great things from you, Severus. I'm sure it would please him immensely for you to become a professor here."
"It would," Severus admitted grudgingly. There was, after all, no denying this. Nor was their any denying that Severus was exhausted and that he felt lost and more than a little lonely. Jane and their baby were dead, and the idea of returning to their cottage – to sleep in their bed without Jane, to see that pink bunnied monstrosity of a would-be nursery – was unappealing at best. What's more, Arsenius Jigger had nearly finished the first edition of his book, and considering that Severus had been exposed as a Death Eater, he knew it would be difficult for him to find employment elsewhere. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, there seemed few better options for him than to come to Hogwarts.
In truth, there was also a certain appeal to teaching. Already, Severus could see himself pacing the Defense Against the Dark Arts classrooms. He would be ardent; he'd be determined. Not only would he be able to prove himself adept at the only subject he'd unsuccessfully attempted N.E.W.T.s in, but – more importantly – he would arm the students with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves. He would prepare them for the Dark Lord's eventual return and educate them so that they didn't choose the destructive path he had. It would be in this way that Severus could restore some semblance of meaning to his life, that he would continue to work against the Dark magic that had destroyed him.
"You will apply then?"
"I suppose I could," Severus replied, although even as he spoke he thought it quite possible he might live to regret it.
A warm smile parted the headmaster's lips. "Excellent! Minerva will be delighted when I tell her we finally have a viable candidate for the Potions position."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Potions?"
"Well, yes, Severus," Dumbledore explained patiently. "It's what your formal training is in."
"But… the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?" Severus was greatly deflated now. Undoubtedly the headmaster had a perfectly reasonable explanation for why he should teach Potions, but the fact remained that, considering his vigilance against the Dark Lord, he was certainly well qualified to teach defensive magic as well. "Thanks to Potter, I may not have N.E.W.T.-level certification, but I had top marks in the subject nonetheless. I know Dark arts – I've lived them – and I've defeated them in my own life."
The headmaster shook his head slowly. "And that, Severus, is precisely why I cannot permit you to teach it," he replied calmly. Dumbledore was so patient sometimes it was maddening. "The Dark Arts were too great a temptation for you once. I should not like to be responsible for tempting you with them again."
Severus' eyes flickered darkly at the headmaster's implications, and it took great restraint on his behalf not to scowl or snap. "That is simply why I must do this," he explained in gentle protest. "Because I have seen the power of the Dark arts, and I know how it feels to be overcome by them. It is my way of atoning for my mistakes. You can trust me, headmaster. You have my word."
It was clear, however, that Dumbledore had already made up his mind. "Perhaps someday, Severus, but not yet," he said softly but firmly. "Not yet."
Severus glowered but did not challenge the older wizard further. He couldn't say he'd always seen eye-to-eye with Albus Dumbledore, but he had to admit he respected the man, and he was grateful for everything he had done for him.
As always, Dumbledore took great amusement in the way Severus, despite his manners, was always secretly seething just below the surface. "Shall I have some tea brought from the kitchens while you prepare your curriculum vitae?" he asked, unable to help grinning.
"Tea," Severus said through clenched teeth, "would be lovely."
It was better than Azkaban, Severus supposed, although that wasn't really saying much. Of course, if Gilderoy Lockhart didn't stop melting cauldrons, he wasn't so certain he wouldn't end up in prison after all. How that dunce was ever accepted into N.E.W.T.-level Potions was beyond him. The boy still couldn't tell the difference between bubotuber puss and Bundimun secretion, and Severus had reason to believe he had convinced Hortense Jorkins to write his paper on the properties of lacewing flies with false promises of an afternoon at Madam Puddifoot's.
Today, it had been shampoo. Despite how Lockhart had tried to hide it when Severus peered into his cauldron, it was quite clear that the boy was not brewing an Invincibility Draft. For one thing, the liquid was a sickeningly purple color; for another, it was emitting a similarly coloured steam that smelled distinctly like –
"Lilacs, Lockhart?" Severus sneered, his nostrils flaring as he leaned over the furiously bubbling substance.
"Yes, sir," he replied brightly. Lockhart was the only student Severus would ever have who remained undaunted by his disposition; he was simply too self-absorbed to care much for what others thought of him. "It's for the hair product line I'm trying to develop."
Severus doubted it was possible for him to have rolled his eyes towards the dungeon ceilings any higher. Looking at the wavy perfection of Lockhart's golden curls, he should have suspected the boy was up to something ridiculous like this. "Perhaps, Mr. Lockhart," he said sharply, "you are so dense that when class lists were handed out at the beginning of the school year, you mistook this course for an independent study in Potions. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to inform you that – it – is – not. While you are in my class, you will do my assignments, not your own. Ten points from Huff—"
It was then that the cauldron boiled over, spewing purple lava into the air and over the desks. There had been the obligatory trips to the infirmary for burns and similar wounds as well as some snickering about how maybe Professor Snape would have benefited from some of Lockhart's shampoo, but in the end, they had survived. Dumbledore had even chuckled about the matter when Severus told him about it that evening over tea and sherbet lemons.
Certainly there would be better days for the Severus, and there would be worse; certainly there would be better students in his classes, and there would be worse. The years would pass, one melding into another. The students would come and go in their usual fashion: shattering flasks or blowing up cauldrons and almost always overtly loathing the Potions master who called them dunderheads when they made a mistake and assigned painfully long research essays over holidays so they wouldn't.
Every so often, though, a particularly inquisitive student would stumble upon the well-hidden catacombs of Hogwarts. And every so often, such students would be so enthralled by the scene that, instead of doing their research on asphodel or wormwood, they'd take the time to read the elegantly scripted names on the square, bronze doors sealing the tombs. One tomb in particular always caught their attention, the one labeled Jane Snape and Child, Martyrs. They'd stagger back in disbelief, finding it hard to imagine that the severe, stern, sallow-skinned and unkempt-haired man they'd come to know as their Potions master could ever have had a wife.
The students knew better than to ask him, but a part of them always wondered about what had happened, about this evidence of hardship in the Potions master's past. The next day in class or in the halls, they'd search for some hint of sadness or anger in his cold dark eyes, some mark of the tragedies that evidently riddled his past. Some students, if they searched long enough, would indeed find these things hidden deep within the man who goaded them about their imperfect potions, and although they could still never bring themselves to quite like him, they'd find a new respect for him, a new understanding for the man named Severus Snape.