"I Can't Let You Love Me" by Persona Non Grata
Chapter One: "You can take off points for anything you like"
He was a fool. There was no use denying it. How many times, after all, had he had his hopes and aspirations of a different kind of life crushed? Honestly, you'd think by now he would have learned. But, no, Severus Snape thought he was bigger than his destiny. He dared think love might be within his grasp. He actually began to hope that he might build a life where he was, what? Content.
But he was a bloody idiot. How many times did he need to be slammed over the head with others' mistrust and hatred before he finally got it through his thick skull that he wasn't meant to be happy? Being nasty seemed to be one of his God-given talents for a reason. It was, after all, the only way the people in his world cared to accept him. Nasty, bitter Severus Snape. They wouldn't let him be different... they wouldn't let him be happy.
At first he regarded her as a mere annoyance. Yet another in an endless parade of faculty hired by Dumbledore. Yet another who would probably last only a year or so. After all, she did seem a bit thick. He had clearly set the tone for their relationship as colleagues upon their first meeting.
She had walked up to him the staff room prior to the first faculty meeting of the year on August 31. She thrust her hand out in the frank friendly manner that was so... American. He knew he didn't like her before she even spoke. When she did he was surprised to hear what was still recognizable as a British accent. It had been diluted, to be sure, but it was definitely British. Her manner, however, was not. She smiled broadly and introduced herself.
"Hello, I'm Phoebe Taylor the new professor of Ancient Languages & Runes."
Snape merely looked at her, neither speaking nor reaching out to take her hand. Apparently untroubled by this she continued, "And you are?"
"Snape. Severus Snape." Severus snapped, still not taking her outstretched hand.
"Ah, yes, you're the Potions Master aren't you?"
"Yes," Severus said shortly.
"Well, I've heard quite a bit about your talent," She said, reaching forward to TAKE his hand and shake it firmly. Bloody, hell, couldn't this woman read body language? Respect boundaries?
"It's a pleasure to meet you Professor Snape," She said, flashing another toothy smile before releasing his hand and turning to move away.
Severus stood stiffly for several moments, looking at his hand.
When he finally tore his gaze away from the offended appendage he noticed Dumbledore regarding him thoughtfully.
"Is there something amiss with your hand, Severus?" he asked.
Severus' eyes flicked involuntarily across the room to Professor Taylor and back again before he said, irritably, "No."
Dumbledore was not looking at him thoughtfully, his eyes straying toward Taylor and back to Snape. He was clearly intrigued, but said nothing more.
When Dumbledore formally introduced Phoebe Taylor to the faculty he noted that she had returned from several years study of Viking runes found in America and Canada.
Well, Severus thought, That accounts for the speech and behavior problems. Hopefully she'll re-adjust soon.
Taylor, however, didn't particularly seem to want to re-adjust. Snape had been horrified to learn her office was in the dungeon near his. He discovered this when she "popped in to say hello" late the next morning. As if that weren't enough, that evening at the Start of Term Banquet she happily plopped down next to Severus. She proceeded to chat happily and ignore his dark looks and his lack of response. If Severus didn't know better, he would swear she was doing it on purpose.
It was with some satisfaction, therefore, that he watched her stumble into the staff room the next morning just before classes. She was pale and squinty-eyed and looked very grumpy. She made straight for the coffee pot without so much as a good morning to anyone. When the bell rang she glared at the clock accusingly and left... blessedly, without a word to anyone. Severus knew the signs of ill-temper better than anyone and Taylor was clearly very ill-tempered in the morning.
At least she has one redeeming quality, he thought, before setting off for his own classroom. When he descended to the dungeons she was standing, arms crossed, in the hall outside her own classroom silently watching the students file in. When they, and Severus' own students had all entered their classrooms she looked darkly at Snape and muttered something.
"Pardon?" Snape asked trying to keep satisfaction from his voice.
"I was just wondering aloud if we can take points from their houses for being too cheerful in the morning."
Severus felt an odd sensation in his chest. It took him a split second to identify it as the urge to laugh... to laugh. He'd be dammed. He resisted the urge and fixed a scowl on his face, instead. But, just before entering his own room he turned his head and spoke.
"You can take points off for whatever you like."
At lunchtime Snape heard an odd hissing noise from Taylors office and couldn't resist looking through the open door. Taylor was directing her wand at an odd contraption on her desk which was dribbling a dark liquid into a small cup on one side while larger container on the other hissed and frothed. Taylor saw him looking in and said, simply, "Café Latte."
She then poured the dark liquid from the small cup into a larger one, and waved her wand at the frothing container which quieted immediately. She took that container out from under a small bent pipe and poured it's white contents into the larger cup with the dark liquid.
"Addictive as bloody hell... take my advice, don't get started drinking the stuff."
Snape couldn't help himself, his curiosity was getting the better of him. Was this some popular North American potion?
"What, exactly, is Café Latte? The name implies coffee and milk but those substances are not strongly addictive."
Taylor regarded him over the top of her large coffee cup.
"Café Latte is an Espresso drink... one quarter espresso, three quarters steamed milk with a little foam... and it IS addictive, trust me."
"This is a muggle thing, then?"
"Who better to devise something addictive, eh?"
"Hmmmm" was all Severus said as he walked away to his office
By supper Taylor had clearly ingested enough caffeine to be back to her irritatingly extroverted self. She, again, sat next to Severus and bombarded him with unwelcome conversation. As he rose and left the table after the meal Severus caught Professor Sprout's voice saying, "Snape is a lost cause dear, he's not really a social person." Unless he was very much mistaken he heard Taylor reply, "That's what makes it so much fun."
It was then Severus decided Taylor might be likable, after all. He also decided that he'd let Neville Longbottom brew him a potion for his personal use before he'd let her know he felt that way.
That was more of a challenge than he expected. Over time it became clear why Dumbledore had assigned Taylor an office and classroom in the dungeon. Although she didn't share his "nasty" disposition, she did share his bone dry sense of humor. He'd catch her smothering a smile at comments he made to students; comments that were normally regarded as merely ill-tempered. She began to congratulate him on particularly clever excuses to remove points from students' houses. When she insisted on ignoring his rather obvious hints that he'd like to be left alone, he began to tolerate her "popping" into his office. His initial suspicion that she was a bit thick was quickly dispelled by her sharp wit and intellect.
She seemed to take particular delight in intellectual challenge. Conversations with her were often the equivalent of a fencing duel. Yes, she was annoying, but he was beginning to mind less and less.
One early winter morning he looked up to see Phoebe Taylors pale, ill-tempered countenance in his office doorway. When he looked up she spoke without pre-amble.
"Do you think Dumbledore would have something to say if I took five points of Gryffindor for Ginny Weasley's hair colour?"
Snape found himself coughing and clearing his throat. Finally, he said,
"While I certainly understand your desire to do so, I'm afraid the Headmaster would likely NOT approve."
"Humph! Aren't you the one who told me in September that I could take off points for whatever I liked?"
"Within reason, of course."
"Humph. Too bad."
Taylor clearly enjoyed social interaction far more than Severus. Still, she also had a tendency to spend great stretches of time on her own, and was quite content to do so. After a week and half when she had barely had a moment to herself Severus found her snapping at him and shutting her office door firmly in his face. He had been a bit put off until he'd put two and two together. " So," he thought, "Not 100% extrovert are we? What is your game Taylor?"
If he had asked Phoebe would have told Snape that there was no game at all... at least nothing beyond the fun she had tormenting him with outgoing, cheerful chatter. Truth be told she'd always had a particular affinity for grouches. She appreciated someone who didn't try to put you on emotionally. She also felt it took more courage to be like Snape than it did to be like her.
She didn't have the guts to risk alienating most people. She didn't have the emotional courage to act as if she wanted everyone to sod off and take the chance they'd do just that. Most of the time she needed other people. Often, however, she needed people to leave her alone. This was the dance she had to do in her life. She was glad that Snape, at least, could be counted on to be there or not.
He also shared her wicked sense of humor... a humor most people couldn't understand, let alone appreciate. But then most people had experienced relatively normal childhoods and young adulthoods. Phoebe couldn't say that, and she knew that Snape couldn't either. She had become an outgoing "people pleaser" and he a sour tyrant in response to what were doubtless similar circumstances in their personal histories. She knew this without being told. That, she supposed, was why she felt she "understood" Snape in her own way and she was happy to leave him as he was.
Severus, too, began to sense that he and Taylor had a basis for understanding one another but he didn't appreciate the fact that Taylor was content to take him... or rather leave him be... as he was. That is, until a third year Slytherin created a mess worthy of Neville Longbottom. The student had evidently tried to "fix" a potion by improvising on the ingredients. When that didn't work the student had turned his wand on the cauldron... only to melt it.
Under normal circumstances this would be a problem. However, the fact that the Slytherin had managed to turn the potion corrosive with the tinkering made it into a "situation." The additional fact that several others, particularly Snape, had been splashed by the potion made it into an urgent incident.
The students in class had screamed with surprise when the cauldron melted. The screams increased almost immediately, as those who had been splashed screeched in agony as they watched robes and skin begin to dissolve. Ignoring his own heavily affected arms, Snape had whipped out his wand to neutralize the remaining potion and douse the affected students with a potion that halted the corrosive process on their skin.
"Hospital Wing!" He bellowed at the whimpering victims of splashing, "Dorado, twenty points from Slytherin and a detention. All of you, out of my sight!"
The students scrambled out of the classroom as quickly as possible as Snape sank down behind his desk and reached with shaking hands for the remaining neutralizing potion to stop the agonizing progress of the corrosive agent on his arms.
"Let me," a terse voice said as a firm hand grasped the bottle and Phoebe Taylor knelt down next to him with a grim expression on her face.
Severus didn't want her to help with his arms... he didn't want her to see his left forearm and the mark it bore... he didn't want to see the inevitable look of pity or revulsion... he didn't want to answer questions, either.
"No, no..." he said through gritted teeth trying to move his arm away and take the bottle at the same time.
Taylor put a very firm hand on his shoulder and said "Yes. Don't argue with me. Sit still, dammit!"
The pain was awful and Severus wasn't sure he could even hold the bottle anymore so he grimly thrust his arms forward. Taylor quickly doused his arms with the neutralizing potion muttering something about "stubborn martyrs."
"She'll know it's not martyrdom in a moment," Snape thought grimly. At this thought he was surprised to feel a sharp stab of pain that was not physical. There was no helping it now, however. "Damm Dorado, anyway. He should have taken fifty points; even if he was a Slytherin," he thought.
Severus watched with resignation as Taylor now carefully wiped a cloth soaked in the neutralizer over his arms to make sure she'd hit everything. Any second and she would move to his left arm, move the tattered remnants of robe and see the ugly Dark Mark etched there forever.
She saw the mark and looked up at him a question in her eyes. Severus was ready for the usual expressions of disgust, mistrust, or pity. Taylor wore none of these. Her expression was... fairly unchanged. There was a question on her face but when he did not react she simply went on with her ministrations. Was it possible she didn't know what the mark meant? No, then why would she have looked up at him upon seeing it? But if she knew... why? Had she merely been looking to him for permission to continue? His thoughts were interrupted by her voice.
"Shall we get you up to Madam Pomfrey, then?"
It took Severus a second to collect his thoughts.
"Ah, no, that won't be necessary. I have another solution that should repair the damage. It ought to be enough ... for me anyway."
He directed her to a red glass bottle in the back of a lower shelf of one of the cabinets. As she daubed the restorative on his arms, Severus was gratified to see healthy skin forming and closing over the ugly mess the corrosion had left behind. It truly had been a gruesome sight. The students had only had minor splashes and he had quickly stopped the corrosive process. Even so they had been disgusted and terrified by the damage. His was far, far worse and yet Taylor hadn't even flinched. He looked at her appraisingly, wondering what this meant.
He didn't have much time to consider it for Dumbledore was stepping quickly into his office a look of concern on his face.
"Severus, do you need assistance?" He asked at once.
"No, thank you, Headmaster. The situation is under control."
"I am glad to see it. Madam Pomfrey sent word that she had reason to believe you had been quite badly injured."
"The students who led her to believe that exaggerated, I am sure," Severus responded calmly. Taylor snorted.
"Professor Taylor, I take it you disagree?" Dumbledore asked his eyes twinkling slightly.
"If he had waited much longer that stuff would have probably eaten through both his arms." She said, her tone matter of fact.
Dumbledore had moved next to Severus and was looking at his arms. Great swathes of them both were covered with pink, shiny, new skin. The Dark Mark stood out starkly on Severus' bare arms. He almost winced when Dumbledore looked at the mark, but did not.
"Phoebe, you appear to have done an excellent job in assisting Severus." Dumbledore observed.
"I just put on the potions he told me to. I would have been quite useless without his potions and his directions."
"In any case, I am gratified to see that no permanent damage has been done. Severus, I would appreciate it if you would let Poppy take a look at your arms to be sure there is nothing further she can do."
Severus breathed out through his nose but said nothing, simply nodding.
"Thank you, Severus. I shall see you at the noon meal, I trust?"
Again, Severus nodded and Dumbledore left.
"Do you keep an extra set of robes in your office?" Taylor asked as soon as Dumbledore left.
"Pardon?" Severus asked.
"Extra robes... these are a mess. I thought perhaps you'd like to chuck them and put on another set before we walk up to the hospital wing."
"Yes, of course. Back of the door."
Taylor was out of the door and back in mere moments. As she stood behind Severus, to help him get into the extra robes without damaging his new skin, he asked,
"Is there anything about which you would like to question me, Professor Taylor?" He held his breath, fearing what might come next but wanting to get it over with. "Go ahead, ask the inevitable question about the bloody damnable mark," he thought.
"No." she answered sounding confused.
And Severus began to breathe again.
That had been over a month and what seemed a lifetime ago. At this moment (and for the last three nights, he reckoned) Severus sat chained to the wall of a god-forsaken stone hut. He didn't really know where he was, geographically. In terms of his situation he was in deep, deep trouble. He had been foolish enough to go down to Hogsmeade one evening and had been forcibly taken away by Crabbe Senior and Goyle Senior. There was some question, it seemed, about his continued loyalty to Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Although the story he had fed them when he'd contacted them last June was plausible enough, there were doubts.
It made sense that he had only been pretending to have left the dark side while biding his time and spying on Dumbledore. Hadn't his abysmal treatment of most students, save the Slytherins, been evidence of his true feelings? Hadn't his persecution of the Potter boy been evidence of that? These, at least, were the things he told them.
In truth, their suspicions were very well founded indeed. His loyalties had truly been with Dumbledore since some time before Voldemort had been overcome by an infant Harry Potter fourteen years earlier. But it was important to Dumbledore's plans that the Death Eaters have reason to believe he was still one of them. Now that he was in their hands, his life depended on that belief.
Months before it would only have been his loyalty to Dumbledore that would have allowed him to care if he continued to survive. Severus realized that he now had another reason he very much wished to make it out of this situation alive. There was someone he wanted to see again.
But, even if he made it out of this what real reason did he have to hope? Were it even possible that she might share his feelings, what sort of life could they build? Besides, honesty forced Severus to acknowledge that while he might have been foolish enough to allow himself to feel for her; there was no reason she should have been equally foolish as to care for him.
If by some miracle she did, what then? Could he continue to risk his life if he knew she cared for him? Could he not -and risk letting the world fall under Voldemort's reign once more? If he showed her any public affection would he then be giving the Death Eaters just the weapon they wanted? All they would have to do is threaten her life and they would own him. No. It was best to stop toying with the foolish idea that he, Severus Snape, could have such a thing in his life.
He was resolved, then. Somehow it gave him some extra courage, to have decided. To know that he was never destined to feel or return love made him more willing to risk his life and his safety. It also gave him the bitterness and hateful anger needed to convince Lucius Malfoy.
That, and some secret information about Dumbledore. Albus and Severus had long ago anticipated a situation like this and decided on what information Severus might sacrifice in order to convince the followers of Voldemort of his loyalty.
Still, Malfoy felt the need to have Crabbe and Goyle Senior beat Severus to within an inch of his life. For twently endless minutes they pounded and kicked him cracking and snapping bones in the process. When they were through Lucius applied the Cruciatus Curse. White-hot blinding pain sang along his nerves as they cried out in agony. And then it was over. Lucius turned Severus' crumpled form onto his back and Severus spat upon him... more blood than saliva. Malfoy looked down at the spot with distaste but otherwise ignored it. Instead, he bent down and put three drops of liquid in Severus' mouth. Truth serum.