Author's Note: The Azkaban Plothole is going under ita different file by that title - look for it, if you can stand it. Those things got well out of hand, I think.

This chapter is dedicated to BeachBum & greyniffler over at New Clues 6 for their stoic agreement. If it comes down to eating hats on June 21st, at least we won't dine alone.

Episode 5: Dark Destiny

Severus Snape was not a nice man. He was petty, opinionated, and utterly convinced of his own superiority. He felt very little more than contempt for the majority of his fellow man, and reserved particular, meticulous loathing for those smaller, frailer, and weaker than himself. There was no fragile artist trapped at the center of his tortured soul, no darkly angelic Lord Byron dreaming regretful of when the war - and the facade with it - at last must end. No delicate, unseen beauty lay mysterious and anticipatory behind his great hooked prow of a nose. In the smallest corners of his most secret heart of hearts, he still, generally, hated everything.

He moved like a great, sweeping bat, taking what little joy there was to be had in the dashed hopes of the children around him, and skulked in the quietest, darkest places because he liked to do. His eyes were black as coal dark tunnels, and as judgmental as a hangman's noose. His lax personal hygiene left his hair and teeth filthy and his skin was the jaundiced, sallow color of those unwholesome things that crept about in shadow.

As a professor, he treated members of his own Slytherin House to a grand farce of praise and vindication. His scarcely veiled despite fell to Ravenclaw, his casual, indifferent disgust to Hufflepuff. He reserved his most glaring revulsion for members of Gryffindor House, and cherished actively a fury that defied comprehension for certain of its membership.

He was a bitter man, angry, arrogant, and mean and, on the whole, that was the way he preferred it.

He also preferred to have his own way and that was why, on the morning when this story starts, he could be found stalking toward an unsuspecting gargoyle on the seventh floor, seeking his employer whom he usually treated to a respectful, if grudging admiration.

"He's busy," said the gargoyle, smugly.

"I haven't time for this, I must see the Headmaster immediately."

"Password?" the stone nuisance inquired sweetly,

Snape spat the word as though it was a particularly nasty taste in his mouth, which, it being a muggle sweet, probably would have been.

"At the risk of sounding cliché," said the guardian, shuffling with deliberate slowness away from the spiral staircase, "you'll be sorry."

"I am never sorry," snapped Snape as he finally clicked past the offensive statue and billowed his way up the stairs, two at a time.

The gargoyle returned to its place and its frozen pose, although someone particularly familiar with it might have thought it was grinning rather more than usual.

Snape sneered at the pun at the top of the stairs, and decided not to knock on Dumbledore's ridiculous joke. A griffin door, he thought in disgust.

He swept the door out of his way and loomed through the opening, glowering into the round office full of eccentric bobbles and an eccentric wizard. It was also, he discovered immediately, full of an alarming number of people, many of them quite oddly dressed.

"I would, of course, be perfect for the Defense Against the Dark Arts job," said the dark, silky voice of a slender, elegant man who graced a conjured black wing-back chair. Dumbledore was enthroned in his own golden armchair across the desk from the over-pretty stranger, smiling with his customary twinkle.

There was no time for certainty and no room for even the usual pretense of politesse. This interloper, this fair-faced twit, was going to steal his rightful place once again. "I really must protest, Headmaster," he snapped. "What does this man have that I do not?"

The stranger – the whole room full of strangers – turned and faced him. Snape felt his pitch black eyes go wide, and a wave of horror very nearly overwhelmed him.

"Why, nothing, my dear fellow," said the elegant stranger with the rather large nose.

"Severus," said Dumbledore sternly, "I was not expecting you today."

"But…" Snape began. He stopped, for his voice had come out sounding rather too much like Peter Pettigrew's – in rodent form. He cleared his throat. "But, Headmaster," he began again, "I know you can't find anyone else for the Dark Arts job this year!" I showed them all my Dark Mark, he thought to himself.

"I am aware of that, Severus," said Dumbledore quietly. "I am also aware of the measures you took to insure this." There was no accusation in the voice or the eyes, just a profound, disturbing sense of extreme disappointment. "I shall hire Severus Snape to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, despite my misgivings."

"Then who in the name of Merlin's aunt Matilda are all these people?"

"Severus Snape, old man," said the bright-eyed dandy who now flourished a silk handkerchief and stretched forth his delicately manicured, lily-white hand.

"No, no, my friend," said another voice, perky and cheerful, "I am Severus Snape."

Snape himself staggered. He looked from one to the other, then at the rest of the crowd. "Sweet Slytherin singing," he whispered desperately. "They're all Severus Snape."

"Not me," said a rich alto voice in the back. Snape's head shot around and he gaped unabashedly at the woman. Her nose was quite hawk-like, but delicate, her features rounded but quite severe. She wore black robes, as did so many of the men present, but hers revealed an impressively curvy physique. "Severna Snape," she introduced herself. "I changed my name after the potions accident."

Snape rounded on the twinkle-eyed wizard behind the desk. "What is going on here?"

"It's simple," said Dumbledore with his ever-gentle smile. It made Snape want to throw things. "The author was writing an alternative sixth-year and made some interesting assumptions."

"Author? Assumptions?"

"Assumption one being that I know everything."

"You can't know everything," Snape muttered weakly. "I'm an Occlumens."

"Perhaps, but I still know that early next week, you are to have an unexpected visitor who will talk you in to agreeing to something. That something will be fatal, for me."

"Oh," said Snape, in a very, very small voice, feeling rather as he had the time McGonagall hauled him into this very office after he had spiked James Potter's morning eggs with a laxative potion. Potter had turned out allergic and very nearly died. It had not been pleasant.

"Now, many would like to assume that I would be willing to give my life for yours. I assure you, Severus, that this is absolutely true. But I would NOT be willing to give my life so that you could run for yours, dragging an innocent child into precisely the kind of hell my sacrifice was meant to spare both of you. Nor do I feel that the best interests of the wizarding world could be served in any way by my untimely death at your hands. You understand, I'm sure, that the risk would be far too great to allow young Harry to pursue the future on his own?"

"Oh, er... right," said Snape. He knew one thing that no other Death Eater knew - that it was indeed possible to kill the Dark Lord. He fully expected Potter to trip on his shoe laces and knock the Dark Lord down a flight of stairs, or something similarly lucky and stupid, but he knew Potter could do it. "So, what are these people doing here?"

"I have decided to replace you with an alternative Snape."

"A... WHAT?" Snape thundered. "You've had too many sherbet lemons, you doddering old fool! These... people... aren't me!"

"Not precisely. This is Severus Sebastian Snape, an elegant fop who pretends to be a greasy bat with the aid of potions." He gestured at the seated Snape before him. Then, he pointed to a Snape in the corner whose eyes twinkled merrily and who looked rather too much like Sirius Black for the real Snape's comfort. "And this is Severus Alexander Snape, who was converted to a kinder, gentler Snape by being drawn into a prank war with Miss Granger."

He pointed out various Snapes as he introduced them. There was always some subtle difference about them - longer hair, different colored eyes, an alarming resemblance to the Muggle actor Alan Rickman. Shorter, taller, all these Snapes seemed similar, yet completely unlike the real Snape who stood there quaking in fury and something very, very much like terror.

"Severus Arcturus Snape, who raised, or adopted an abused young Mister Potter. Severus Samuel Snape, who is the true love of Lily Potter, or Miss Granger, or Miss Tonks, or any number of other females, including Minerva. Severus "Perseus Evans" Snape, who was the brother of the Evans girls. Severus Octavius Snape, who has a rather disturbing secret passion for Mister Potter, Mister Malfoy, Remus Lupin, or Sirius Black..."

"Now wait just one damn minute!" Snape shouted. "I am many, many strange and disturbing things but I have never ever been a pedophile, or a... a... FAIRY!"

"I rather thought homophobia beneath you, Severus," said Dumbledore, again giving off waves of disappointment.

"I'm not homophobic, I put up with Lucius!" he cried. "But honestly, Black? What's the matter with you?" He turned directly to the Snape in question, who shrugged and grinned at him. It looked horribly unnatural on that face so like his own.

Dumbledore nodded and continued his introductions. "And here's Severus Christopher Snape, a cat Animagus who was rescued and nursed back to health by one of the cast of potential mates. Severus Nigel Snape who was Lily Potter's secret lover and Harry's real father." The real Snape was foaming at the mouth now, as Dumbledore went through a list of Snapes who had been sorted into Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, Snapes who were secretly Salazar Slytherin come forward in time, Snapes who had complete personality changes as a result of Potions accidents, Snapes who were sixteen as the result of the same, Snapes who played professional Quidditch instead of teaching Potions, vampire and veela Snapes, Snapes who were secretly super heros, Snapes who danced and sang and made a mean souffle.

"But I think I'll have to go with Severna here," said Dumbledore at last. All the other Snapes groaned in disappointment, except the real one, who was pouring water from his wand onto himself in an attempt to wake himself from this nightmare and also put out the steam pouring out of his ears.

Dumbledore shook his silver head at them all and twinkled at the thrilled looking Severna. "She'll have so many female hormones to get used to, she won't be up to causing much trouble for anyone and, if all else fails, she can seduce Voldemort, I suppose."

That was it, the last knut on the pile. Snape's mind snapped loose from it's housing and he started to scream and gibber incoherently.

"But Albus," said one of the other Snapes, "where will he go, what will he do?"

"Frankly my dear," said Dumbledore, "I don't..."

Severus Snape woke with a start and found himself in his own musty bed, in his wretched little house at Spinner's End. He resolved then and there that, if and when his visitors turned up, he would stun them all and drag them off to Dumbledore, and Half Blood Princes be damned.

There was a knock at the door. "Answer it, Wormtail," he shouted in a quavery voice, and rose shakily to greet his guest.

The Dark Lord grinned at him devilishly. "Hello, Severus," he said in a deep, husky voice. "Tell me, is that a wand in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

And Severus Snape was carried to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Ailments where he spent the rest of his days trading snarky barbs with Gilderoy Lockhart and coloring bright pictures of strangely clad versions of himself dying in every manner possible.

Upon hearing this, the gargoyle in front of Dumbledore's office was heard to remark, "I told him he'd be sorry." No one was ever sure what that meant.