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Author's Note: There are two consistent "bad guys" in Harry Potter's daily life at Hogwarts: Malfoy and Snape. But there is a difference in how JK Rowling portrays them. There are subtle hints, especially in books 3 and 4 that there are reasons why Snape is the way he is. Certainly the people at Hogwarts must have their opinions and suspicions. Minerva McGonagall for instance...
"And Yet He Flinched"
I know that I am impatient with him at times, but I cannot help myself.
I suppose you might say that impatience is a reasonable and understandable reaction when dealing with Severus, but I cannot help but regret it.
I see the tense angular lines of his back as he walks away and I think of that tense little boy who arrived here at age 11 concealing his terror behind a sour mask. I chalked his disposition up to his family, of whom "sour disposition" would be only a mild description.
I remember that morning in First Year Transfiguration with an immediacy that makes it seem like it happened yesterday instead of so long ago. I was walking up and down the aisles of my classroom watching the class attempting to turn beetles into coat buttons. Severus was trying very hard, as he always did. He always seemed desperate to get it right. As I came up behind him, something in the hunch of his shoulders drew me to him. Without thought, as I looked to see how he was progressing, I lightly placed my hand on his shoulder.
I don't know why I did that. I am not a demonstrative person, after all. Now I wonder if I wasn't trying to smooth away whatever I sensed caused the desperate, tense hunch of his shoulders. Then again, I may simply have overbalanced for a brief moment.
It was the lightest of touches, barely qualifying as human contact. And yet he flinched. Sharply and instinctively he flinched away from the contact and, before he could think to cover up his reaction he drew in his breath and every muscle in his body grew taut with what I recognized as fear.
You don't have to be an teacher of long experience to know there is something wrong in that and to reason out what it must be. I recognized Severus' reaction for what it was, what it meant. For you see, I knew I was not the one of whom he was afraid. Severus was afraid of someone who wasn't in the room, at least not physically.
He regained his composure so quickly that no one, save I, had a chance to notice anything. Severus' usual sour glower once again closed over his face. But for the briefest of moments it had slipped and I was distressed to see what was behind it.
Of course I went to the headmaster and told him what I saw, what I suspected. Albus told me he would speak to the boy and he did. But when I was called back into Dumbledore's office the news was not what I wanted to hear.
"I'm sorry, Minerva, but young Severus chose not to confide in me."
"What do you mean, Albus? Are you saying he didn't want to talk about it?"
"Well, yes. But more than that, he emphatically denied there is anything wrong."
"And you believed him?"
"No, I most certainly did not. But without a complaint from the boy there is very little we can do."
"You don't mean to tell me you intend to do nothing?!"
Dumbledore sighed heavily and his eyes held a hint of despair Minerva had rarely seen.
"At present, nothing is all we can do."
"Albus! You can't seriously tell me you intend to let the boy return to his home? We can't do that... not knowing what we know... we can't!"
"Ah, but that is just the thing, Minerva," Dumbledore sighed, "We don't KNOW anything from a factual standpoint. All we know is that the boy flinched."
"I know. I know in my gut with a certainly I'd wager against almost anything."
Dumbledore was nodding slowly, "That is true for me as well. Frankly, Minerva, I'd feel better trusting your instincts that some persons' facts, but your gut is not acceptable evidence for the Magical Law Enforcement Squad nor is it any good in the eyes of the Council of Magical law. Besides," he added in a sad tone, "If we do this against the boy's will and wishes it will likely do no good. In fact, it may do a great deal of harm as he is likely to regard it as a betrayal. Aside from this, since such action could not possibly be successful at this time it would only serve to further enrage those we would like to protect him from but cannot. We would only make it much worse. Until Severus is ready to tell us the truth there is very little we can do."
He was right, of course. I knew that. I just didn't want him to be right.
Our only hope was for Severus to trust us and that wasn't likely to happen. He, after all, wasn't letting anyone past his very well defended battlements.
Of course, Albus and I both continued to be as kind as we could to him. We tried to let him know that we were available to him, but it seemed to do little good.
Over the next several years I occasionally thought I saw a glimpse of something... trust? need? When he was sixteen I thought that he might finally be toying with the idea of at least opening up to one of us.
But whatever door might have opened given time was slammed shut and locked by that infernally stupid bloody irresponsible "prank." It's true that Sirius Black's appalling lack of judgement surely arose from demons of his own... but at sixteen I think we could have expected better.
Severus never understood Dumbledore's reaction, never. To this day I think he trusts Dumbledore more than he has ever trusted anyone but he still holds himself back even from him... and I can see in his face, in the set of his body, that it troubles him still.
"But he tried to kill me, they all did!"
He kept saying it over and again. He wouldn't, couldn't hear Dumbledore's reasoned response that Lupin could not have been in on it, that Potter was likely not in on it either, and that Black had been a foolish, reckless, irresponsible idiot but that he meant no harm.
I could see it on his face without him speaking it aloud, he tried to kill me and it doesn't matter to you. It was there, right before his face closed off and settled into that pinched sour expression from which it has rarely wavered since.
I would gladly have expelled Black upon the spot, but Severus never saw that. He was too stunned, I think, by what he perceived as Dumbledore's betrayal and soon it was too late to try and talk to him about it. All too soon it was simply "too late" in general.
I thought we'd lost him forever.
How hard it was for him to come back to us - but so much worse not to.
For a short time afterward, there were chinks in his battered defenses.
One afternoon, when news came of yet another person sent to Azkaban for using the Cruciatus Curse, he lost himself for a moment, letting his guard down.
He spoke to me, but never looked at me, he just kept his eyes fixed on the window.
"It doesn't leave any marks you know, the Cruciatus," he said.
"I know." I said gently. I thought he must be thinking of having used the curse. There was a silence that felt longer than it actually was. Then he spoke again, picking up his thread as if I hadn't spoken at all.
"...not even on children."
I looked at him then, expecting to see a terrible guilt that he must have felt had he been forced to use the curse on a child, on children. But guilt is not what I saw.
There was no guilt there only memory. I could see the memories were not of what he had done, but of what he had endured. Instinctively I reached out to touch his arm in sympathy -
And he flinched.