Chapter 3: Severus Snape
He glances down the table, sees the Headmaster plying Lockhart with yet another piece of custard tart, and he feels a searing stab of jealousy because normally that's where he sits, but there's been a frantic reshuffling of the seating arrangements since Lockhart arrived. Everyone has scrambled to get as far away from the vainglorious pillock as possible, and now he's sulking in self-imposed exile a long way down the table, next to doddery old Kettleburn – while Lockhart occupies the place at Dumbledore's right hand, next to Minerva. Nothing seems to ruffle the Headmaster, but it looks like Minerva is getting another one of her headaches ... serves her right, Lockhart is one of her blasted Gryffindors, after all, and what an ornament to the House of Wankers he is! And Minerva knows that he's a fraud - the look on her face was priceless when she heard Lockhart banging on in the staff room about the Wagga Wagga werewolf and the Homorphus Charm, because she knows full well that the Homorphus Charm forces an Animagus to assume his or her human form, it has no effect on a werewolf because nothing stops a transformed werewolf except the Avada Kedavra or a Muggle silver bullet.
To be fair, it does take guts to pull off a swindle of this magnitude and the audacity of it would be amusing if it didn't affect him personally, but it hurts, it hurts that Dumbledore would appoint a buffoon like Lockhart to the Defence position instead of him. It's an annual ritual, an annual charade that he goes through, applying for the DADA position - because he's never going to get it, is he? And he doesn't know why Dumbledore refuses him the job, doesn't the Headmaster trust him enough to give it to him? Does Dumbledore really think that if he teaches Defence he's going to lose his grip, and go, ah, back to his old ways? And hasn't he proved that he can be trusted around Harry Potter, hasn't he proved that he can be trusted around the boy with James Potter's face and Lily Evans' eyes?
Potter, precious bloody Harry Potter, playing on the Gryffindor team in his first year at Hogwarts, not even his arsehole of a father had managed that ... and he'd known that there was no chance that Potter would be expelled for pulling that stunt with the flying car. Potter is Dumbledore's darling, Dumbledore's Golden Gryffindor, and Potter is the weapon – the weapon against the Dark Lord. But he'd been hungry, cold and cranky after searching the grounds for over an hour, looking for Potter and his faithful sidekick, and he'd lost his temper when he'd overheard the little bastards gloating over how he'd missed out on the Defence job yet again - and so for a moment he'd allowed himself to dream, to dream of James Potter's spawn disgraced, expelled, his wand snapped in two ...
Kettleburn is saying something about the increase in the number of Acromantula in the Forbidden Forest in recent years, and he mutters something in reply, pushing the piece of treacle pudding around on his plate – it's a trick that every kid knows, cut the food up into small pieces and push it around a bit, make it look as if you've eaten at least some of it - but even if it wasn't for Lockhart's presence at the table he wouldn't have much appetite tonight. Not tonight, not on the anniversary of the night that the Dark Lord fell and Lily died - not that he can remember much of that night or the days that followed. Funnily enough, he'd been with the Headmaster at the time, hashing over yet again who was the spy, who was the source close to the Potters that was feeding information to the Dark Lord - and when the Dark Mark had hurt like hell, burned black and then faded away completely they'd both known that something had happened, something serious, something that involved the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. Everything after that was a bit of a blur, and he suspected that a hell of a lot of firewhisky and perhaps some mind-altering potions of the kind that students should definitely not try to brew had been involved.
Yes, he'd been with Dumbledore when it happened, trying to convince the Headmaster that it must be Lupin, it must be the werewolf who was the traitor - he'd never suspected for a moment that it was Black. But he had suspected Black of sniffing around Lily, he had suspected Black of carrying a torch for his best friend's wife – and maybe that's why Black betrayed James Potter. Had the Dark Lord promised Lily to Black, when he'd killed her husband and her child? It wouldn't bother the Dark Lord that he'd already promised Lily to him, to Severus Snape, no, it wouldn't bother the Dark Lord to break a promise.
Wouldn't it be a delicious irony - worthy of a Muggle romance novel - if the Dark Lord had made the same promise to him and to Sirius Black, if the Dark Lord had promised James Potter's beautiful wife to both his best friend and his worst enemy? And wouldn't it be a cruel joke if the Dark Lord had bought Sirius Black with the same promise that had driven him into Dumbledore's arms? Not that he'd ever been in love with Lily, but they'd become friends - for what that was worth - when Slughorn threw them together in his special advanced tutorials for "his two most brilliant NEWTs students", and he'd certainly fancied her, who didn't? She was gorgeous, he wasn't the only Slytherin to have noticed her – and he'd indulged in some pretty lurid fantasies about her, even after she married Potter.
He hadn't been quick enough to hide his feelings when the Dark Lord had called them together to tell them that the Potter boy was the one, the one he was going after – and the Dark Lord actually thought he was being generous, giving him a reward for bringing him the god-damn prophecy, when he'd said, "I can see you're … attracted … to the Mudblood witch. You can have her when I've killed Potter and the boy." But by the time the Dark Lord had finished with Lily, by the time he had obliviated all her memories of James and the baby, she'd hardly be recognizable as the same person, she'd just be a body to use - it would be nearly as bad as a Dementor's Kiss, and he couldn't let that happen. And he couldn't let the brat die, not when he knew how much she loved her little Potter-clone, she'd do anything to protect the tiny, mewling lump he'd seen in her arms that time he'd bumped into her in the Leaky Cauldron by carefully orchestrated chance - even die for it. So he'd gone to the Headmaster, to the only wizard the Dark Lord ever feared, and blurted it all out ... and he'd thought it would be Azkaban but Dumbledore had other ideas, and now it's Black who will rot in Azkaban for the rest of his life.
Black is in Azkaban, Potter and Pettigrew are dead, and who knows or cares what has become of Lupin? Werewolves aren't very popular, are they - not after the way that Fenrir Greyback and his pack behaved in the war, and why haven't the Aurors hunted Greyback down and killed him? Hell, he'd gladly do it himself, if the opportunity ever came up, he'd gladly kill the filthy, stinking thing himself if he got the chance. It's not wrong to kill a werewolf, a werewolf is diseased, unclean – a werewolf isn't human. Exterminating Greyback and his pack of ferals is the kind of thing that deserves an Order of Merlin, First Class – not inventing a potion to make life easy for the disgusting beasts, to soothe the pain of their transformations, to enable them to pretend that they're normal, that they're safe, that they're tame.
He remembers the beginning of term, when Lockhart came down to the dungeons and crapped on about Damocles Belby and his new Wolfsbane Potion, and he'd realized exactly who Lockhart was. Lockhart had been in the same year as Lucius, and he'd made it pretty damn clear what he was, the pathetic way that he'd mooned over Lucius from the Gryffindor table – he'd been a standing joke amongst the Slytherins, and probably among the other Houses as well. Not that Lockhart's adoration had bothered Lucius, because Lucius considered adoration to be his rightful due ...
He lets his eyes wander towards Lockhart again - the revolting faggot is wearing lilac robes tonight, his favourite colour according to Year with the Yeti. Not that the students have the slightest inkling that Gilderoy Lockhart, five times winner of Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award, is queer - but if he lets that drop, he'll be the one in deep shit, the Headmaster has made that clear. Very clear.
Lockhart looks up, catches his eye for a moment, and he looks away, discomforted as well as angry, if he keeps looking at Lockhart like that, Lockhart might get the idea that he's interested, urgh. He thinks, Lockhart can't be a child molester, surely Dumbledore wouldn't have him at Hogwarts if there was any risk of that, but I still don't like the way that he pays so much attention to Potter, if Potter was in my House I wouldn't have let him serve detention with Lockhart. No, I don't let any of my boys serve detention with Lockhart, they can do some cleaning for Filch, Muggle-style, find out what it's like to live without magic ...
Then Kettleburn says something that breaks his train of thought, says something about the troll that disturbed last year's Halloween Feast, and he remembers Quirrell, remembers when the Headmaster called him into his office to tell him what Quirrell was, to tell him what Quirrell kept hidden under that turban. It had been a horrible shock to hear that, to realise that the Dark Lord had had him under his eye for the whole of last year - and he hadn't suspected a thing, he hadn't felt the slightest twinge in his left forearm. Oh, he'd been convinced that Quirrell was up to no good, he'd guessed that he was after the Philosopher's Stone, he known that he was a danger to Potter, but he hadn't dreamed for a moment that Quirrell was possessed by the Dark Lord. Sweet Merlin, that had been a terrifying piece of news, and if the Dark Lord is ever restored to a body ... better not to think of that, of what that will mean.
And if the Dark Lord ever returns, if he ever regains a body, he'll be after Potter - Potter will be his number one target. The Dark Lord isn't stupid, he isn't going to let the Boy Who Lived grow up and reach his full powers before he kills him, and how is Dumbledore going to keep Potter safe? He remembers how Potter went roaming after Quirrell's troll instead of going straight to the Gryffindor dormitory, the stupid foolhardy boy – but the rules don't apply to famous Harry Potter, do they?
He runs his eye down the Gryffindor table, looking for Potter, he could easily miss Potter amongst the crowd at the table but he can't see the Weasley sidekick's red hair – it's just like the Muggle nursery rhyme, everywhere that Potter went, the Weasel is sure to follow – and that's puzzling because students rarely miss a feast. He can see Ginny Weasley, though, a plain little thing aside from her gorgeous red hair, and there's something odd about that girl, she's acted quite strangely once or twice in her Potions classes, and he's been wondering whether he should say something to Minerva. The girl reminds him of someone coming out from under an extended bout of the Imperius Curse – dazed and confused – but he doesn't really relish the thought of a long conversation with Minerva about the after-effects of one of the Unforgiveable Curses, he doesn't relish that at all, so perhaps he won't say anything.
Finally, thankfully, the meal is over and the students pour out of the Great Hall, babbling noisily. All of his Slytherins should be making their way down towards their dungeon common room and he's about to follow them when he spots Draco Malfoy climbing the stairs amongst a crowd of Ravenclaws, no doubt intending to borrow someone's Charms essay, and that's bloody annoying because it's nearly midnight and this is no time for inter-House friendships. He follows the crowd up the stairs, thinking, Draco will get the sharp edge of my tongue when I catch up with him, if not a detention with Filch - and then he can hear shouting in the second floor corridor, Filch is screaming something about his cat being killed, and then he can hear Dumbledore's voice.
The students scatter out of his way, he catches up with Minerva and Lockhart, and he can see the Headmaster lifting Mrs Norris down from a torch bracket. Filch is standing next to him, looking distraught, and behind them, backed up against the wall, are Potter, Weasley and Granger - the know-it-all Muggle-born girl who's nearly always with them - and he can tell by the looks on their faces that they're not innocent bystanders. And above their heads, written on the wall in letters a foot tall, is a peculiar message.
THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.
ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.
Dumbledore is looking grave, and there's something odd about the bundle of fur in his arms – Mrs Norris is as stiff as a board. Is she dead?
"Come with me, Argus," says Dumbledore. "You too, Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, Miss Granger."
Lockhart thrusts himself forward eagerly. "My office is nearest, Headmaster – just upstairs – feel free - "
Dumbledore thanks Lockhart and heads towards the stairs, and Filch and the Gryffindor brats follow, through the silent crowd that parts to let them pass. Lockhart hurries after Dumbledore, but Minerva hangs back for a moment, looking at him with her eyebrows raised in a silent question. Of course he knows what the Chamber of Secrets is - every Slytherin knows about the hidden chamber that can only be opened by Salazar Slytherin's true heir and the monster that dwells inside it - it's hardly a secret, it's mentioned in Hogwarts: A History, but he shrugs his shoulders to signify that he knows no more than she does about this mystery.
They follow the others through the hushed mob of students and he starts turning the situation over in his mind ... clearly, there's a connection between the writing on the wall and the cat, and the cat must have died hours ago for rigor mortis to have set in – but if she's been dead for hours, why would the perpetrators still be hanging around the scene of the crime? If the animal has been killed, this is a nasty prank at Filch's expense - exactly the sort of thing that Potter would do because he's as alike to his father in temperament as he is in looks, and Weasley seems incapable of independent thought ... but it's surprising that Granger is involved - she seems the soft-hearted, cat-loving type.
But perhaps Mrs Norris isn't dead - not even rigor mortis makes a body look like that, the animal looks as if she's been recently stuffed – has she been cursed? Hit with a Freezing Charm that the brats didn't know how to reverse? And if Potter or Weasley hexed the beast in a fit of temper, Granger would have been smart enough to come up with the idea of daubing some nonsense about the Chamber of Secrets on the wall to point the finger of suspicion at a Slytherin. A sly trick, but Granger has broken the rules to get her friends out of trouble before, she lied about the troll ... Of course it would have been a lot simpler just to take to their heels and leave the body where it was, but there's no real doubt that the Gryffindors have something to do with this unpleasant business - they weren't at the feast, were they? The circumstances are definitely suspicious ...
And then he remembers the detention that Draco got last year for being out of bed at one o'clock in the morning, lured into trouble by some cock-and-bull story about a dragon - even Minerva had been furious at that spiteful little prank and she'd taken 200 points from her own House. Maybe Granger is more of a bitch than he'd given her credit for - is this revenge for the Mudblood insult on the Quidditch pitch? Because Draco Malfoy is the most likely person to be pinned as the Heir of Slytherin, and victimizing Filch's cat is a smart move, a very smart move ... Filch is a friend of Slytherin House, but he's not quite rational about his cat, any attack on his precious pet and he can be counted on to bay for blood. A very smart move, but it's backfired badly – Potter and his friends have been caught in the act, and although it won't be expulsion, the punishment will be severe ... perhaps a string of Saturday morning detentions, and with the Quidditch season just about to start, too ... oh dear, oh dear, Potter won't be very popular with his House-mates if he's off the Quidditch team, will he?
They reach the door of Lockhart's office – he's never been inside it before, but he's not surprised by the number of framed photographs of Lockhart that adorn the walls, and he notes with malicious glee the rollers in the hair of the Lockharts dodging out of sight.
Lockhart fusses around lighting the candles on his desk, and Dumbledore lays Mrs Norris on the polished surface of the desk and begins examining her, the tip of his nose barely an inch from her fur and his long fingers gently prodding and poking her. Minerva is bent almost as close, her eyes narrowed, Filch slumps in a chair by the desk, sobbing, his face in his hands, and Potter and his friends are huddled by the door, looking anxious.
He stands back, watching - clearly it's no simple Freezing Charm, the Headmaster would have lifted that in seconds. No, if it is a curse then it's something much, much nastier than that, probably Petrification - and Potter is in it up to his ears. Perhaps he's underestimated Potter just because the boy shows no more aptitude at Potions than his father did, he's got nothing of his mother's talent – perhaps the Boy Who Lived, the boy who destroyed the Dark Lord's body and who killed Quirrell by the power of touch alone, has hidden depths, murky depths. He can barely restrain a smile at that thought ... oh, Dumbledore isn't going to like this, and he won't be able to ignore it, either.
Then something that Lockhart is saying catches his attention, the idiot is prattling on about the Transmogrifian Torture, saying he's seen it many times, and what a joke that is, that curse doesn't make the subject's body go rigid, quite the reverse - it melts the victim's body, makes it go all ... sort of manky and runny ...
The Headmaster is muttering incantations under his breath and tapping Mrs Norris with his wand, and at last he turns to Filch and says, "She's not dead, Argus."
Ah, this is interesting ... it must be Petrification, as he'd suspected. And who would have thought that the Golden Gryffindor would know such Dark magic?
Filch is asking why Mrs Norris is all stiff, if she's not dead, and Dumbledore explains that she's been Petrified, but he doesn't know how, and then Filch starts shrieking and blaming Potter.
Dumbledore is defending Potter, saying that no second-year could have done it, but before he can protest - because surely the Headmaster can't believe that Potter isn't involved in some way - Filch starts whimpering and blithering that he's a Squib and that Potter knows because he's seen Filch's Kwikspell correspondence course letter.
He thinks, it's hardly news that Filch is a Squib, there can't be anyone in the school who hasn't worked that out for themselves because he never uses a wand, the poor sad old bastard ... but he can see in Potter's eyes that he knows about the Kwikspell letter. Filch must be a complete cretin to have left anything important, anything sensitive, sitting around where Potter could get his hands on it - and what else is Potter lying about? It's definitely time that someone asked some logical questions and got to the bottom of this.
"If I might speak, Headmaster," he says. "Potter and his friends may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we do have a set of suspicious circumstances here. Why were they in the upstairs corridor at all? Why weren't they at the Halloween feast?"
Potter and his friends start yapping about the Gryffindor Ghost's Deathday Party, claiming that the ghosts can confirm that's where they were. Fine, they have explanation for why they weren't at the feast, but not for what they were doing in this corridor, which isn't even on the direct route from the dungeons to the Gryffindor tower. No, they've been careful to avoid answering that question.
"But why not join the feast afterwards?" he asks. "Why go up that corridor?"
Weasley and Granger look confused, and Potter mutters something about being tired and wanting to go to bed. Oh, he's lying all right, Potter came up this corridor for a reason - a reason that he's trying to hide - but without using active Legilimency, which would require the use of his wand, he can't see the reason. But the food at ghosts' parties is inedible - the three hungry brats should have come scurrying into the Great Hall to fill themselves up on puddings. How are they going to explain that?
"Without any supper?" he queries, a smile flickering across his face. "I didn't think ghosts provided food fit for living people at their parties."
"We weren't hungry," says the Weasley boy loudly, but his rumbling stomach gives the lie to that.
Oh, this is just getting better and better, Potter has been caught out telling a veritable daisy chain of lies, and Dumbledore must know it, too - but how to squeeze the truth out of the boy, without the aid of Veritaserum or Legilimency? Indirect pressure will need to be brought to bear, and Potter loves Quidditch – and the popularity it brings him - as much as his loathsome father did.
His smile widens. "I suggest, Headmaster, that Potter is not being entirely truthful. It might be a good idea if he were deprived of certain privileges until he is ready to tell us the whole story. I personally feel he should be taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team until he is ready to be honest."
Minerva objects, as he expected she would, protesting that the cat wasn't hit over the head with a broomstick. She's saying that there's no evidence that Potter has done anything wrong, but the Headmaster will back him up, Dumbledore is a Legilimens, he must know that Potter is being less than truthful.
Dumbledore looks at Potter, and says, "Innocent until proven guilty, Severus."
He can hardly believe it, the Headmaster knows that Potter is lying – so why is Dumbledore letting Potter get away with this? Even after Black's betrayal, does the Headmaster still believe that a Gryffindor can do no wrong?
He knows that his fury is showing on his face – and then Filch gives voice to his feelings.
"My cat has been Petrified!" Filch shrieks. "I want to see some punishment!"
"We will be able to cure her, Argus," says Dumbledore gently. "Madam Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made that will revive Mrs Norris."
He's thinking, I can make the damn potion easily enough, but that's not enough, it's not enough to defrost Mrs Norris and sweep Potter's nasty little prank under the carpet and forget about it, there has to be punishment - when Lockhart butts in. "I'll make it. I must have done it a hundred times, I could whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sleep -".
He's incredulous - Lockhart dares to buy into this, dares to interfere in a matter between himself and the Headmaster? Lockhart dares to poach in his territory? He's smirked before when Lockhart stepped on the toes of the other teaching staff, but this is intolerable. He opens his mouth – remembers that there are students present, and whatever the provocation he'll never slag a colleague in front of students – and restrains himself.
"Excuse me," he says, icily, "but I believe I am the Potions master at this school."
There is a long, awkward silence.
"You may go," Dumbledore says to the brats.
The Gryffindors scuttle from the room and as soon as the door bangs behind them, he turns on Lockhart, he's really going to let the bastard have it, oh yes, he'll have the bloody pansy in tears before he's finished with him – when the Headmaster raises his hand. But it's not the raised hand that stops him in his tracks, it's what he can read in Dumbledore's eyes – the Headmaster is worried, really worried, he knows that Potter isn't telling the truth but that's not what's bothering him, and Dumbledore is silently pleading with him, don't make a scene, Severus, not now, not tonight ...
He chokes back the scathing words on his lips but he doesn't trust himself to stay in the same room as Lockhart without exploding, so without another word he turns on his heel and stalks out of Lockhart's office. But as he walks down the stairs towards the dungeons the face of Lucius Malfoy floats, unbidden, into his mind, and he remembers the hints that Lucius dropped last summer that there's going to be trouble at Hogwarts this year. Vague hints, because although they're friends – hell, Lucius is pretty much his only friend – Lucius knows better than to expect him to sit back quietly and let Lucius meddle in Hogwarts affairs.He thinks, I'm damned if I can see a connection between Lucius Malfoy and Filch's cat, but I'll talk to Albus tomorrow - after I've made a few inquiries in my own House, made sure that none of my Slytherins are mixed up in this - and Lockhart can keep, I'll sort him out some other time.