Conspiracy of Silence
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling created and owns Hogwarts, Severus Snape, and almost everything else in this story - for which I will be forever jealous.
Author's Note: The sequel to CoS: First Impressions.
The chaos of platform nine and three-quarters was incredible compared to the quiet of life with his uncle. However, Severus Snape was still glad to be going back to school - not that you'd have known it to look at him.
His mother's brother had reacted to his return with vague surprise, as if he'd already forgotten that he'd raised an orphaned nephew from the age of six. In truth, Sev had done much of the raising himself, and would rather have this amiable lack of interest than any amount of smothering enthusiasm. But after having the facilities of Hogwarts at his disposal, even his uncle's extensive library seemed too small to him. He was itching to get back to Professor Malachite's private book collection and read up on the Dark Arts.
Sev was exceptionally quick, and magically far in advance of his tender age of twelve. There was no disguising that he was bright, but the true extent of his brilliance he preferred to keep to himself.
Silently observing whilst drawing no attention was his trademark. It was a tactic that had come under some fire last year; definite lines were being drawn as disquieting changes swept over the wizarding world. If he stayed on the sidelines this time, he'd never learn anything until it was too late.
So right now, Severus Snape was very much in the thick of things. And that meant he had to be very, very careful what he said and did when there were witnesses.
Case in point; the pretty red-haired girl forging determinedly through the crowd towards him. Lily; the closest thing to a friend he'd made at Hogwarts. He had explained to her in great detail at the end of last year why he was going to have to avoid her from now on. And, since he knew her so well, he knew she wasn't about to take a blind bit of notice.
A crowded platform was hardly the place to have the kind of discussion she might want. He tried to vanish into the crowd, but she'd already seen him.
"Severus! Don't think you can avoid me," she warned darkly, catching him up. He shot her a very sharp look, and pointedly turned away.
"Hey!" she reached out and grabbed his arm to turn him back towards her.
At that point, a familiar drawling voice interrupted.
"Slumming with the animals, Severus?" Lucius Malfoy made a 'tsk, tsk' noise with his tongue and looked Lily up and down with a sneer. She was wearing her Muggle clothes, whereas Lucius was in dark robes despite the rules about not drawing attention at the station.
Lily matched him sneer for sneer. "I can see why you don't like animals, Malfoy. It must be so disturbing for you to be around anything warm-blooded." She gave him an evil smile and flounced off.
Malfoy, irked at being put down, turned to frown at Sev. "Talking to mudbloods now, Severus?" he asked, with a definite chill to his tone.
Sev mentally cursed Lily. What she didn't seem to realise was that just because Malfoy might be bigoted and cruel, that did not mean he was unintelligent. Still, in deviousness he was no match for Snape.
"She seems to think I had something to do with Audley Fletcher taking his tumble last year," he lied smoothly, without a fraction's hesitation.
Malfoy smirked at the memory. "Ah, yes. Honestly, the nerve of some people - daring to think that we would have anything to do with such a plot!" The grin that spread across his face rather belied his words. "After all," he added dryly, "nobody told us about it."
Sev gave his trademark thin smile, and filed that information away. Malfoy was amusing himself by being cruel, but he seemed serious enough all the same. He had dropped a few veiled hints about some action to be taken, and apparently Professor Fennel's attempt to murder a student hadn't been it.
Audley Fletcher, the son of an Auror, had been targeted by their Potions master in an attempt to get at his father. Fennel had failed, but Sev knew he hadn't been working on his own initiative. The Dementors had administered their deadly Kiss before he could be made to spill anything, so Sev was quite possibly the only one who knew the truth.
And Lily, of course. She had - pretty much accidentally - ended up his partner in investigation last time around. He wouldn't deny that her aid had been useful, but he couldn't afford to get near her this year. A Gryffindor, a 'mudblood' and a girl, she earned Malfoy's contempt threefold.
Of course, there were very few people he wasn't contemptuous of. Even amongst the Slytherins in their year, of which he was the de facto leader, there were only three that he treated as any sort of equals; Sev himself, slimy Nicholas Avery, and the frankly disturbing Simon Lestrange. The beautiful but haughty Narcissa Salenica he treated like as a possession, and the others he seemed to regard as servants.
Aside from Malfoy's closest intimates and his personal thug, Colin Crabbe, Sev found most of the Slytherins no different from the rest of the students. Many of them were petty or mean, but that had as much to do with the schools' general opinion of Slytherins as anything else. Gryffindor house in particular was guilty of vilifying their long-time enemies; whenever it came to a confrontation, whatever the circumstances, Slytherin came off the villains.
One boy particularly undeserving of that title was Joshua Matthews. An extremely self-confident boy with a quick mind, he had all the Slytherin ambition without the usual arrogance. Sev remembered his Sorting as having taken a long time, and suspected his house selection had been a very close thing.
Josh was certainly uncomfortable with most of his fellow Slytherins. On the train journey, he selected a seat next to Severus. He had tried to establish some sort of friendship with Sev several times last year, despite the lack of any encouragement. He seemed to prefer Snape's quiet detachment to Malfoy's venomous outlook.
Today, he had a younger boy in tow who was practically his spitting image. Josh was a handsome, sandy-haired boy who could make even a robe look rumpled. He would, Sev had often observed, look quite at home in James Potter's little gang of loveable mischief-makers. Not that they would stoop to associating with Slytherins.
"Morning, Sev," he said with a hesitant smile. Sev nodded, but didn't smile back. The only emotions that ever showed on his face were ones he put there for a purpose.
Josh indicated the smaller boy beside him. "This is my little brother Lewis. He's starting at Hogwarts this year." Lewis's expression was flickering between nervous and excited, and he couldn't seem to stand still.
Lewis was round-eyed and excited at everything, from the trolley of snacks to their first glimpse of Hogwarts. Malfoy and company, professionally unimpressed, kept shooting him killer looks, but Josh ignored them. He was obviously fond of his brother, and, Sev guessed, very glad that this year he'd have someone in his house to talk to.
As they made their way into the Hogwarts grounds, the first years were herded away by Hagrid. Sev and his fellow second years made their way into the Great Hall to take their places at the house tables. Lily tried to catch his eye as they filed in, but he pointedly looked the other way.
The staff table was full of familiar faces. Dumbledore, of course, sat in the centre, flanked by his heads of house; Professors Malachite, Vitae and Parilia, with a space for the deputy head Professor Fractalis, who was dealing with the first years.
That wasn't the only empty space, however. For a moment Sev thought the position of Potions teacher had not been filled, but then he saw that a raven-haired woman sat in Fennel's old chair. A quick mental checklist told him it was Professor Cephus who was missing.
Auriga Cephus was a flighty young woman who taught astronomy. It was not unusual for her to forget where she had put her wand or the names of her students, but he wouldn't expect her to have missed the Sorting.
Josh leaned over, having noticed Sev's frown. "What's up?"
There was no harm in sharing an observation that anybody could have made. "Professor Cephus. She's not there."
"Oh." Josh pulled a face. "I hope she hasn't left; I always liked her."
"You would, Matthews," interjected Malfoy scathingly. "Trust you to like the only mudblood teacher in the school!"
Josh rolled his eyes, but didn't try to argue. His attention instead was focused on the Sorting ceremony just beginning.
A flustered Professor Fractalis got all the first years lined up and placed the Sorting hat on its stool. It looked even more battered than last year; not surprising, Sev supposed, when you considered it had been used at Hogwarts for the last thousand years.
A rip opened up in the brim of the hat, and it began its traditional Sorting song.
The Hogwarts sorting hat am I,
I speak as I shall find.
I look inside your head and see
Whatever's on your mind.
I know you as you know yourself
Or better; that's the truth.
I always know where you should go
My magic is the proof.
If you are brave, and strong of thought,
If you are slow to flee;
If you can fight with all your might,
A Gryffindor you'll be.
If you are quick to think and choose,
If wordplay is your art,
In Ravenclaw your plans will find
The perfect place to start.
If you can work without a pause,
If you are firm and true;
If you can toil with your heart,
A Hufflepuff are you.
If you are fast to plot and plan,
If thinking big feels right,
House Slytherin is just the place
To make your future bright
So step right up and sit right down
And learn who you shall be,
And trust the Hogwarts sorting hat
For no one baffles me!
The room burst into applause, and Malfoy used the cover of it to lean over and say "A singing hat; I ask you, how childish is that? If I was headmaster I would have done away with that foolishness years ago."
Josh was one of the few Slytherins to clap the song. His little brother gave him a shy wave from across the room.
"Andrews, Darren!" Fractalis called, and the first year boy nervously stepped up.
There seemed to be a surprising number of Slytherins this year; normally, the houses were very evenly balanced, but today their own seemed constantly ahead. Malfoy smiled triumphantly at every addition, and Colin greeted warmly one Graham Goyle. Apparently their families had been friends for decades, and Sev half-wondered if the association was closer than that. Goyle was like a miniature copy of Colin, with the same stocky build, closely cropped hair and dense expression.
"Matthews, Lewis!" Josh leaned forwards in his chair, watching eagerly. Malfoy made some sharp retort under his breath, and the boys around him all snickered.
Little Lewis stepped up and placed the hat on his head. For a long moment, all was silent. Seconds stretched into minutes, and Sev wondered if it was going to come to a decision at all... and then the hat spoke.
The rest of the day passed in less dramatic fashion. Lewis looked somewhat lost over at the Gryffindor table, although his new companions were making an effort to draw him in. Sev was sure that whatever happened, he was going to have a better time of it than his brother.
Josh seemed vaguely numb with disbelief during the feast, and the other Slytherins were muttering darkly. Josh had never quite been 'one of the gang' last year, and apparently this was being taken as yet more 'proof' that he didn't belong.
Logically, of course, whatever house Lewis got put in had no bearing on where Josh should be. In fact it was, whilst not common, not particularly startling for siblings to end up in different houses. Explaining this to Malfoy would be worse than useless. Boys like Malfoy didn't want reasons to victimise people so much as excuses. Malfoy had already made up his mind not to like Josh, and any justification for this was filled in after the fact.
None of this infighting was incredibly important to Sev, so he ignored it in favour of more interesting things.
Dumbledore stood up to make his usual speech. "Welcome, one and all. Greetings to the new first years, and a warm welcome back to all our returning students." He cleared his throat and pulled on a sterner expression. "Now, as you know, after the... difficulty with Professor Fennel last year, the position of Potions master was left open, and none of you got to take your end of year exams." The student body tried to look distressed at this, and failed miserably.
"However, I'm pleased to tell you that the post has now been more than adequately filled." He raised a polite hand to the raven-haired woman whom Snape had noticed before. "Professor Ephemeria comes on the highest of recommendations from the Ministry of Magic, and I hope you'll be as respectful to her as you are to the rest of the staff." The slight twinkle in his eyes betrayed his knowledge of exactly how much 'respect' some of the staff received.
Professor Ephemeria gave an unexpectedly dazzling grin, that made her look little older than a seventh-year herself. The round of enthusiastic applause that followed was probably as much out of gladness to be rid of Fennel as it was for her.
Malfoy didn't clap, of course. He looked vaguely bored, and remarked "They should have kept Fennel. I never had any problem with him."
Leading them back to their dorms, Professor Malachite caught Snape's eye. He gave him an inquisitive look, as if he was wondering if Sev was ever going to explain himself. Sev knew the teacher suspected he was up to something after he'd 'accidentally' fed Audley Fletcher a potion to make him vomit (entirely 'coincidentally' saving him from the poison Fennel had already slipped him). Sev wasn't sure how much of that story Malachite suspected, or why the teacher had allowed him free access to some very advanced books of magic. He returned his gaze with his usual unreadable look, and said nothing.
Professor Malachite was someone he would be watching closely this year. Of course, Sev watched everyone closely. The only difference was in how sure he was that he would find something.
As he lay in bed, reading over a few advanced texts whilst others slept, it occurred to him that Professor Cephus had never turned up for the feast, and Dumbledore had said nothing about it. He added that to his list of things to investigate.
It was getting to be a very long list.