Authors note: According to the Harry Potter Lexicon, Professor Snape, born in 1960, started teaching in 1981 at the age of only 21. I don't know in how far this time line is correct (it's supposed to agree with the 'official' one on the DVD) - but let's just pretend it is. Makes a nice story line ...
Disclaimer: They are not mine (sniff), nothing's mine (sob), and I don't make money with it either (double-sob). All the glory goes to J.K. Rowling (mega-sob), but the reviews belong to me (har har). So, please review!
A Matter of Age
Voldemort was gone. Though not forever, he was sure of that. The Dark wizard would rise again. But they might have a few years of piece to lick their wounds and prepare for another war.
There had been so many casualties in the Order, and now the Potters were dead, too. Betrayed by their best friend. At least, the ancient Shielding Magic that he had woven around little Harry had worked. Much better than he had hoped for. Voldemort's Death curse had backfired and rid the world of the monster - temporarily. Hagrid was in charge of the boy right now. He had rescued the orphaned child from the smoldering ruins of Godric's Hollow and brought him to a safe place until he had decided what would become of the last descendant of Godric Gryffindor. There were no living wizarding relatives, but Lily had a sister somewhere not far from London. It might be a good idea to let Harry grow up as a normal child outside the wizarding world where he was now a celebrity, the Boy-Who-Lived. He would have to decide soon.
There were many other things to plan and decide, too. Now would be the ideal timing for a major strike against the Death Eaters. All of a sudden bereft of their leader, they would be in a state of confused disorder, and therefore vulnerable. He had to contact their spy to assess the current situation and plan the next steps. The young wizard had warned them abut there being a traitor close to the Potters, but, unfortunately, he had never thought Sirius Black capable of treason. His spy had, but given their history of mutual hatred he hadn't listened to the warning. He had erred. A fatal error. It was very much his fault that little Harry had lost his parents tonight. But there was no time for self-incrimination right now. He had to act.
With a soft 'plop' Albus Dumbledore Disapparated from the site of destruction.
[those little stars and a couple of spaces should be here indicating change of place or time but ff.net seems to eat them lately, sorry]
It was in the early morning hours of the first of November when he Apparated inside the small room above the dingy apothecary in Knockturn Alley. The room was swathed in darkness, and there was no sound to hear.
"Lumos," whispered the old wizard, and a faint bluish light emanated from the tip of his wand revealing a small table, a single chair, a shelf with a few books, and an empty bedstead. And a crumpled form lying on the floor in front of the bed.
"Severus!" Dumbledore hastened over to the fallen man. He was breathing, thank Merlin, but unresponsive. Dumbledore couldn't find any signs of an attack, but the young wizard was pressing his left forearm convulsively to his chest as if in great pain. This would have something to do with his Dark Mark, then.
"Severus, wake up!" He gently shook the former Death Eater by his shoulder. The young man moaned softly, then blinked.
"Come, my boy, I'll help you up. What happened?"
"My arm suddenly started to hurt but not like the usual summons. I ... I thought it was burning up. I must have passed out from the pain. It's not that bad now." Severus rose, holding onto Dumbledore's proffered arm. "I have no idea what this would mean, though."
"But I know. Voldemort is gone." The young wizard winced at the dreaded name, then his eyes grew wide as Dumbledore's words sank in.
"Gone? You mean he's truly ... gone?"
"For now, at least. That's why I'm here. We need to talk. But let me have a look at your arm first." Dumbledore made more light and steered Snape towards the single chair. "Sit down and push your sleeve up, please."
The skin around the skull-and-serpent tattoo was raw and riddled with blisters, but the Mark itself was faint and fading away rapidly under the two wizards' perplexed gazes. Dumbledore murmured a quick cooling charm to alleviate the pain.
"It's almost gone," Snape whispered hoarsely, still staring at the last traces of the ugly Mark.
"I guess, this is happening to all those who bear the Mark at the moment. They will soon find out why. We better take advantage of their temporary confusion and apprehend as many of them as possible."
"And I am to provide the information about where to find them?"
"I trust you will find a way to gather the necessary intelligence?" Dumbledore gave the dark-haired wizard a sharp glance.
"I will," the young man confirmed, looking straight back into Dumbledore's eyes. "But we better don't lose any time. I'll try to make contact straight away."
"I will hear from you soon?" Snape nodded. "Then good luck, Severus. And take care." Dumbledore smiled at the young Slytherin and Disapparated.
[think of little stars and spaces again …]
"I can't do this, Professor. It's ridiculous. Me, a teacher? I never wanted to teach. I hate children."
"There is no alternative, Severus. The Death Eaters will soon find out that I vouched for you in court, and they won't be slow to figure out why. I was even forced to reveal that you spied for us when Karkaroff accused you of being a Death Eater during his trial. It was hard enough to keep you out of Azkaban, my boy. I don't want to see you murdered by your former colleagues, or tortured into insanity like the Longbottoms."
"I can defend myself. And most of them are serving a life sentence in Azkaban, anyway."
"Thanks to you. But some are still around. And even if it was safe, I would have to bring you to Hogwarts. As I said, it was hard work to get you out of Crouch's clutches after you were arrested, even though young Shacklebolt gave evidence that you saved his life by killing Wilkes while Moody was busy dueling with Rosier. Plus it was you who set the trap for the two Death Eaters in the first place."
"It took pretty much time to get me out, too."
"I'm really sorry for that, Severus. I know Mad-Eye Moody's interrogation methods aren't exactly pleasant."
"The understatement of the century."
"I wish I could have spared you this, but there was no way. I'm not as almighty as some people might think. Anyhow, as it is, the Ministry placed some restrictions onto you. First of all, you have to stay at Hogwarts under my supervision. You are allowed to leave the school only to report to the Ministry once a week, accompanied by a staff member. They will also place a monitoring spell on your wand so you won't be able to perform Dark Magic without them noticing. And since it was I who vouched for you they will make me responsible for any transgressions on your part. I trust there won't be any?"
"I really don't like to have to tell you all this, Severus, after everything you have done for the Order, and under great personal risk. Believe me, if it was up to me, I'd award you an Order of Merlin, first class. But I'm not the Minister of Magic. And even though I have some influence, it is rather restricted. I fear you will have to comply with the terms."
"Don't be so downcast, now, Severus. Being the Hogwarts Potions master isn't that bad at all. You will have a well equipped lab, all the ingredients you ask for - the legal ingredients, mind you -, an excellent library, and ample time during the weekends and holidays for research projects of your own. And you will be Head of Slytherin."
"You don't understand, Professor. It's just impossible. A matter of age, so to say. I'm barely three years out of school myself, and the higher grades all know me as a student. They might have seen or heard certain things, too." Some graying underpants, for example. "There's just no way the brats will ever respect me as a teacher."
"Don't underestimate yourself, Severus. You are the youngest Potions master ever in British history. They will respect you sure enough when they see you know what you are talking about. And you can always deduct points and give detentions to rein them in a bit. And a little favoritism will work wonders to secure you the loyalty of Slytherin house. You only have to make a memorable first impression, create some awe-inspiring myth, and the children will soon forget anything they knew about Snape the student. At the latest when they have to serve detention with Filch." Dumbledore smiled encouragingly. "I bet, you have learned a few things about intimidation techniques with the Death Eaters, too. This might come in handy, once in a while. Only you have to promise me that you won't hex your students."
For the first time, a small smile played around Snape's thin mouth. "I'll try not to."
"And don't poison them, either." The headmaster winked humorously.
"Pity. But I can deduct points and give out detentions freely?"
"As long as there aren't too many complaints .... And one more thing, Severus. We have to think of the future, too. I am absolutely certain that Voldemort will return sooner or later. You might want to be on good terms with people like Lucius Malfoy, just in case."
"The slimy bastard. Should have known he would buy himself out." The smile had vanished from the young wizard's face again.
"Malfoy has still a lot of influence in spite of his association with the Death Eaters. He might be able to make things pretty nasty in his new function as School Governor, especially for you. You don't want to have him as your enemy, Severus."
"You want me to keep up the pretense, then?"
"For your own safety, yes."
Snape nodded then sighed resignedly." When am I supposed to start teaching?"
"I'll take you with me to Hogwarts straight away. Then you'll have the entire weekend to get settled before classes start on Monday. I fear the students are pretty much behind in the subject. Professor Amanitus wasn't able to keep up standards those last years, due to old age. He was fragile already when you graduated, and declined quickly. I haven't been able to find a competent replacement ever since he died last Christmas. But," he gave Severus another fond smile, "I trust you will bring the children up to scratch again in no time at all."
"You don't intend to give me any time to back out again, do you?" Severus grumbled. "But since I don't have a choice whatsoever, we can as well leave immediately."
"That's the spirit, my boy. You'll see everything will work out fine, just fine."
[and again little stars and spaces …]
The door to the Potions classroom flew open with a bang. In a flurry of black, the new Potions master entered the room, glaring the fifth year Gryffindors and Slytherins, who had been chattering and joking animatedly just a few seconds before, into a state of nervous paralysis.
"Take your seats, instantly," the teacher bellowed. "And fifty points from Gryffindor for silly chit-chatting during classes. - Anything to complain about, Mr. Weasley? Make it a hundred points then." An evil grin graced the astonishingly young and strangely familiar looking face of the new professor as he strode past the students' benches. In front of the blackboard, he turned on his heels, black eyes glittering.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began, speaking in barely more than a whisper. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses ... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death - if you aren't just a big bunch of dunderheads."
The classroom was dead-silent when he finished his little speech, but whether the students were mesmerized or simply terrified was difficult to tell.
"Get your cauldrons ready. The ingredients for today's assignment are to be found in the store room. Recipe on the blackboard. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully. And be warned, burning or melting of cauldrons will result in additional point deduction, explosions in detention with the caretaker. Did I make myself clear? Then get started. Now." Turning his back to the stunned students, he began to write down the instructions, but turned around once more. "Oh, in case you want to know, my name is Professor Snape, Severus Snape."
[little stars and spaces …]
"How are things going, Severus? Lived through your first week of teaching?" the headmaster asked his youngest staff member good-naturedly when they met in the Entrance Hall.
"Wasn't half bad, actually," answered the new Head of Slytherin. "I think, I might even come to enjoy certain aspects of my current existence. Gryffindor will have difficulties keeping their house points above zero this year, I fear. Pity." Of course, he knew he couldn't go on with deducting house points like this, but why not test the limits? With a smirk at the headmaster, he continued on his way to the dungeons, leaving Dumbledore behind wondering whether it had been a good idea to give the young Slytherin the advice he had given just a week before.
Minerva wouldn't be amused, no, not at all ....
[and for the last time, little stars and spaces …]
You know, of course, who wrote Snape's brilliant little introductory speech, it wasn't me ... (SS/PS 8: The Potions Master)