Hello. Yes, I'm writing again after a long absence. This is something I've been playing with for some time-and it's rather lighter than my other stories. It's a Snape/Harry mentor story (because everyone has to write one).
The Best Revenge
Harry Potter was coming to Hogwarts. He was coming soon: only a few pages away by the self-updating potions calendar on the wall of Severus Snape's laboratory.
Snape would have the rest of July, when he would brew Poppy's list for the infirmary. He would have August, his last blessed month of freedom to finish his private projects before the arrival of the dunderheads. Then the latest scion of that rotten stock would be swaggering through the halls of what had been to Snape both haven and prison for so many quiet years.
He glared at the calendar, resenting it. With nightmare clarity he pictured James Potter, snitch in hand, lording it over a new generation, smirking at him from the back row of the student desks, waiting for the chance to humiliate him once more. Living through the misery of his student years had been bad enough: now he would have to relive them, day by miserable day. It had been seven years of hell. He had raised the possibility of a sabbatical with Albus, and had been refused with a smile and a dozen good reasons.
Restless, he shut down the current potion, and put it in stasis. He was too distracted to work well at the moment. Harry Potter was coming to Hogwarts, and Snape might as well try to command the tides as prevent the imminent catastrophe.
Everyone else was astir with excitement. Whispers about The Boy-Who- Lived rustled through the halls. Not just his colleagues, either: even the ghosts gossiped discreetly. The very portraits were uncommonly active, awaiting the young hero.
Climbing a staircase and stalking quickly down a hall, Snape scowled at the worst offenders, a gaggle of shrill voiced witches forever celebrating Beltane. One of them, the sultry, buxom one with flaming tresses, always made eyes at him when he passed. Today she blew him a sympathetic kiss. He did not respond, and felt like lashing out as they commented on his weakness for red hair.
Minerva was working on the Hogwarts letters today. She had said as much at breakfast. Like himself, she did not spend the whole of the summer at the school, but was back and forth as her duties demanded. Not like Sprout, engrossed in her gardens for the entire time. No, Minerva had just returned for the letters.
She had worked out a system that had served her well for years. Obviously, she did not write each letter herself, but had the Hogwarts Quill produce them en masse from a template. All the birds of the owlery hovered nearby, ready to deliver the letters throughout Magical Britain.
For all that, he thought she looked harassed, after he knocked and was invited in to her office. Meticulous as she was, the letters resisted organization: Parchment flew about, folding itself, flying past the seal. Green ink and purple wax puddled on the floor, despite her efforts and those of the house elves.
She gave him a sharp glance. "Come to make yourself useful?"
"I certainly hope not," he grunted. "I've had all I care for of making myself useful in the dungeons today. I'm about to grow bonespurs from all the Skele-Gro I've brewed."
"Puir wee laddie," she said, utterly without sympathy, catching the latest parchment escaping from the Quill, and waving it off in the proper direction. "Wayward things. I sometimes wonder if the Quill wants these children here at all."
Snape slumped into a chair. "I can think of one of the little buggers I'd prefer not to see."
She pressed her lips together reprovingly. "Pull yourself together, Severus. He's only a child."
"Only The Child-of-Destiny-Who-Lived-to-Rule-All-Hogwarts. Can you imagine how spoiled rotten he is?"
"I have met Draco Malfoy," she replied, peering over her glasses, brows raised.
Snape scoffed, watching the owls catch each whizzing letter in unfailing talons. "He's bound to be worse."
A letter fluttered by, and Snape was distracted by it.
The Terribly Untidy Room with all the Plants
Minerva was quiet for a moment, letting another piece of parchment fly, and then remarked, "I'm not too sure of that. Who knows what those wretched muggles he lives with have done to him?"
"Lily's sister and her husband. I daresay they dote on him."
"Possibly. Possibly not. I told Albus—" she scowled and vanished another splotch of green. "—I told him that I had taken a look at them, and that they were the worst sort of muggle—smug and suburban and small-minded. Scarcely a book in the house, and the two of them slobbering over their own little boy in a very unhealthy way. It all gave me a very bad feeling."
"The idea of Harry Potter here gives me a very bad feeling. I daresay Albus had his reasons."
"Well, obviously the boy's godfather-" She paused, and a quick flash of misery spread over her stern face, and was just as quickly overcome.
"Quite," Snape replied after a moment of deep and holy satisfaction. The murderer Sirius Black was safely in Azkaban, where he belonged, and where he could threaten no one else. It had taken the lives of thirteen muggles and his friend Pettigrew to convince the wizarding world of what Snape had known for years: Black was a killer—a violent sociopath without any regard for the lives of others. If his homicidal tendencies had been nipped in the bud, back in those dreadful school years... Well, as far as he was concerned, those unnecessary deaths lay directly at the Headmaster's door. Dumbledore had viewed Black's attack on Snape's life as a merry prank gone wrong. Snape had known better then, and did not mind being proved to have been right all along.
Nonetheless, Black had been the Potter child's guardian, and with his incarceration, Albus had stepped in, and placed the child not with any of his eager wizarding relations, but with Lily Potter's muggle sister. No one had seen him since, other than a few pushing gawkers. No doubt it was intended to keep the boy safe, but Snape wondered, judging from his own experience, if life in the muggle world was really a good thing for any wizarding child.
Curious in spite of himself, he asked, "Does Albus visit the boy?"
A letter flew by, and Snape snorted at the address:
The Green Room. (It's NOT Called the Nursery Anymore!)
"No," Minerva replied, with a disapproving scowl. "No one has been allowed to visit. I asked if I might, a few years back, and Albus told me he had promised the aunt to leave them alone. That did not speak well for her, as far as I was concerned."
"I quite agree." Another letter flew by, lazily spiraling in the fresh breeze from the window. Snape saw the name, and summoned it.
The Cupboard Under the Stairs
Number 4, Privet Drive
Little Whinging, Surrey.
Snape's eyes widened. What's this?
With an attempt at unconcern, he asked, "Does the address reflect the child's current location at the moment the letter is addressed?"
"No," Minerva answered irritably. "That would be impossibly difficult. It's generally directed to the place where the child regularly sleeps. Now if you don't mind, I'm very busy, even if you're slacking off."
"Do you read the addresses as you work?"
"I hardly have time!"
Snape studied the heavy yellow parchment thoughtfully, and set it aside.
How very interesting. The Cupboard Under the Stairs. The words rattled about in his head, conjuring unpleasant visions, recalling ugly memories. As a child, he had been locked in a wardrobe on occasion and he disliked small spaces to this day. He thought more seriously about his memories of Petunia: how unpleasant she had been to him personally, and how bitter and jealous of Lily she became over the years.
She wouldn't dare—or would she? He snorted. Why not? A helpless child at her mercy with no one overseeing her…an opportunity to get a bit of her own back…Lily's parents long dead, of course... Dumbledore's promise of no interference…There's no one, absolutely no one to prevent her from treating the boy exactly as she likes.
"Do you simply send the letters out and hope for the best?"
"What? Of course not. I visit the muggleborn children personally." She jerked her chin, indicating a small stack of envelopes on the desk. "Otherwise we'd never hear from them. Where would they find an owl?"
He smirked. "Do you think Harry Potter has access to an owl?"
She saw the letter on the table beside him and glared at him. "Don't try to stop the letters going out, Severus. Unpleasant things would happen to you."
"The thought never crossed my mind."
It appeared that Minerva was nearing the bottom of the list of names. The Quill wrote the letters, Minerva signed them, the parchment fluttered itself dry, and the Quill addressed the letter. It gathered up a supply list from a waiting pile, and folded itself neatly. It was then passed under a glass globe filled with warm purple wax and promptly punched with a wet and hearty smack that resembled a kiss. If Minerva did not catch the letter to add to the muggleborn stack, the letter flew to the waiting owl and was gone in a moment.
The rhythm was almost hypnotic. Snape watched the process, thinking about the son of James Potter. Then he thought about the son of Lily Evans. Then he thought about the poor-relation nephew of Petunia. If only the child were a girl, he thought. I could think of a girl as Lily's more easily.
It was rather pleasing to imagine a young James Potter reduced to poverty and sleeping in a boot cupboard. It was not so pleasing to imagine Lily in the same situation. Petunia has a husband and a child of her own. Perhaps there is some rivalry? She wouldn't want her sister's child to outshine her son the way Lily always outshone Petunia herself. I wonder if the husband is a restraining influence. The address would seem to indicate otherwise. Perhaps this Mr Dursley is a weakling, dominated by Petunia. The girl was horribly shrill at times—and spiteful, too.
James Potter's son. The bully's son bullied in his turn. What had ten years with Petunia done to the child? Snape grimaced. Dumbledore behaved as if he had never heard of abused or traumatized children, and when told of cases, tended to dismiss them as exaggerations. It was a constant puzzlement to Snape. Dumbledore had known generations of students, many of whom arrived bearing mental and physical scars. Only a blind state of denial could explain the Headmaster's blithe optimism.
Perhaps Dumbledore's childhood was perfectly idyllic, and he cannot imagine anything else. Ten years in a cupboard? The boy may be half-mad. He may be neurotic, withdrawn, repressed, hopelessly damaged. So much for the Boy-Who-Lived. Does Dumbledore think of him only as a symbol?
It was time to say something, he decided. "I know Lily's sister rather well, actually. We grew up in the same town, the Evans girls and I. Petunia resented Lily from the day she got her Hogwarts letter. She may not like sending her nephew to Hogwarts. Perhaps I should pay a call on her and discuss it."
"Really, Severus," Minerva protested, "the responsibility is mine."
"But you have all the rest to attend to."
"They won't be allowed to refuse to send him to Hogwarts, you know."
Snape could imagine Dumbledore's response to anyone who tried it. "I would imagine not. I'm sure I can make it clear that that is not an option."
"Perhaps my appearance might be salutary."
"Oh, yes, I daresay," sneered Snape. "Mine, however, might be even more so."
She paused in her work, eyeing him narrowly. "You disliked her."
"I dislike everyone."
"Don't be too intimidating, Severus."
"I shall be exactly as intimidating as I need to be."
She laughed ruefully. "If she really is uncooperative, I expect you to take young Harry for his supplies yourself. Dumbledore has his Gringotts key. Do you think you're equal to giving the grand tour of Diagon Alley to Harry Potter?"
He frowned, and gave her a considering nod. He picked up the letter again, careful to keep the address from Minerva, and thrust it into a pocket. His lips quirked, remembering himself as a wide-eyed small boy, holding the hand of a small, equally wide-eyed Lily. It was a precious memory, carefully guarded from the greatest practitioners of Legilimancy. The smiled curdled a little. It should have been James Potter who took his small son to see the wizarding world for the first, ravishing, glorious, unbelievable time. How Potter would have strutted down the Alley, waving at his friends, making grand entrances as he showed off his heir at all the shops. Snape pictured father and son lingering over the Quidditch supplies. But James Potter was dead, and would be rolling—no, thrashing- in his grave to see himself replaced by his hated enemy. The thought made him feel a trifle giddy.
"Yes," he answered aloud, feeling cheerful for the first time in weeks. "I can think of no one better."
At lunchtime, Dumbledore was quite astonished at Snape's involvement in the case: astonished, and perhaps (though this was well-hidden) not entirely pleased, despite a beaming smile.
"My dear boy, I am so pleased to see you letting bygones be bygones. Do you really wish to deliver Harry's letter personally?"
"I believe it will save time in the end, Headmaster," he replied, all of his mental shields in place. "I have no desire to make more of a to-do over a first-year student than necessary. Besides, I confess a slight curiosity to see Petunia Evans after so many years."
"If you really believe there will be some difficulty, Hagrid would be more than willing—"
"I am not afraid of difficulties," he replied, rather stiffly, "and I have other errands in the Alley. A brief diversion. As I told Minerva," he remarked, nodding in her direction, "I am the best qualified person: I know the aunt personally, and as a halfblood who lived in the muggle world in childhood, I can anticipate Potter's questions and concerns better than anyone else here."
Albus peered at him, with just a touch of reproach. "I do hope," he said gently, "that you are not looking upon this as an opportunity for an act of retribution on James Potter. While I know that the two of you had your differences as students, it would be very, very wrong if you were visit your resentment on an innocent boy. I daresay young Harry is much like his father, and that might cause you to brood over wounds that should have healed long ago-"
Minerva broke in, rather sharply. "They certainly should have, and you oughtn't to stir the pot by bringing them up again, Albus. It was very thoughtful of Severus to offer to help me. He was quite right to point out that Harry will have no way to reply. Besides, it's important that someone else understand this process—"
Dumbledore smiled again, and waved a hand to calm her. "Yes, yes, my dear Minerva. There is much in what you say. It was very kind of Severus—very kind indeed. Nonetheless, my boy, if you find yourself too busy this afternoon, it will be no trouble at all for Hagrid to go." He gave Snape another searching glance, combining hope with doubt—a glance Snape had seen all too often.
He grimaced and looked away, attacking his roast beef vindictively. His thoughts whirled. What was the old man at? The Headmaster's words had brought to mind how much James Potter had done to torment him. Minerva's intervention had calmed him somewhat, and now he was wondering what game Dumbledore was playing.
He did not want Snape to retrieve the Potter boy. That much was clear. However, he did not want to forbid him outright, since that would be impolitic, as Minerva had already agreed. Despite his fair words, his demeanor was clearly meant to discourage. In this situation, it roused Snape's curiosity. Was there something wrong with the boy? Something he did not want Snape to see?
Dumbledore had not insisted that Minerva go herself, but had wished to substitute Hagrid. Why? Hagrid had always treated Snape well, but no one could accuse the fellow of being the ideal choice to advise a new student, or to explain the intricacies of the wizarding world. What made Hagrid so desirable?
He was big and imposing, of course, which made Snape suspect that the Headmaster did in fact expect "difficulties." Perhaps Dumbledore knew a great deal about the boy's situation, and that in turned raised a train of thought that Snape had no time to explore. What else?
Minerva was shrewd and observant, and if there were something amiss in Petunia's household, she would pick up on it immediately. Hagrid was unlikely to notice silent hostility, at least, and might not think to mention it. Furthermore, Hagrid was an ardent old Gryffindor, and vocal about it. Unlike McGonagall, who was scrupulously fair, he would likely prejudice the boy in favor of his parents' house, and fill the child's ears with tales of his father's shining qualities. Snape vowed that if he could prevent nothing else, he would make it his mission to prevent that. And yes, Hagrid was personally loyal to Dumbledore—all right, fair enough. Dumbledore wanted the boy to be given the most admiring, laudatory image of Dumbledore possible. Perhaps it was an old man's harmless vanity. It could also mean that Dumbledore regarded the boy as important enough that he wanted to be able to influence and manipulate his actions. He had long understood that Dumbledore believed the Dark Lord would return someday. There was that cursed, abominable prophecy—
The one that will vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…
The juicy roast beef tasted of dust and ashes. Despite Dumbledore's dire predictions, Snape personally believed that the prophecy had already been fulfilled, and thus was of no further value. As an infant, The Boy-Who-Lived had indeed vanquished the Dark Lord. Snape wondered if the boy was cognizant of his status. Since Petunia had not seen fit to capitalize on it in any way, it was possible—just possible—that he was not.
What would be the affect on an ignorant boy, coming from the humdrum life of muggles, to find that he was a hero? To find out that magic was real, and that he was already a famous wizard? Would he coast through life because of something that he could not possibly remember, with all his glories behind him? It would be all too easy to mold such a boy into the semblance of his reckless, shallow, impulsive father.
On the other hand, if Snape would not step aside in favor of Hagrid, Dumbledore's fallback plan might be for Snape to meet Famous Harry Potter angrily and resentfully, to willfully ignore any problems evident in the boy's life—perhaps to maliciously withhold such information from others. That would inevitably push the boy toward anyone who seemed to be Snape's opposite number. By reminding Snape of his most painful grievances, Dumbledore was subtly encouraging him to do his worst.
Snape hissed at his defenseless plate, realizing that he had almost fallen in with the old man's scheme. His curiosity was now aroused to the highest degree. He must play this carefully, seeming to be uninterested, even slightly contemptuous of the boy—hardly difficult—and yet intent on his duty. He would get the key from Dumbledore immediately. He would probably have to accompany the child to the Potter vault. That was a bonus. Perhaps he could have a glimpse of the Potter wealth, the fame of which had been a weapon in James Potter's hands. Snape did not care much about money, per se, but he had often pondered what he could have done with his life—the places he could have seen, the studies he could have pursued-had he been as rich as Lucius Malfoy or the Black Family—or Potter. He certainly would not be endlessly reliving his wretched youth as a teacher in his old school. Potter had been rich, certainly—a careless, rich pureblood—so rich that he could marry a muggleborn witch with no money of her own and carry it all off effortlessly.
Of course, Lily had been very special. Any other muggleborn witch would have looked foolish and awkward and out of place in the circles Lily had married into. Lily had never looked out of place in her life. If the boy could model himself after his mother, now, there would be hope for him. Snape pictured a small head bent over a pile of books: a diligent student, not sliding by like his father on charm and raw talent…
Dumbledore appeared to be nearly finished with his pastries. The remains of the overloaded plate of sugary dainties made Snape a little queasy, as he contemplated the smeared gobbets of brown and red and pale green. It reminded him of the aftermath of an Entrail-Expelling Curse.
"I shall need Potter's Gringotts key," he announced crisply, setting down his own fork with a silvery clink.
"Today?" Dumbledore looked at him in incredulity. "Surely it is too early for Harry to receive his letter."
Minerva was listening, and swiftly interposed. "No, Albus. Harry's eleventh birthday is today. I had planned to send the letter, but Severus will hand-deliver it. And the sooner the better," was her muttered addendum.
Snape refrained from smirking. At times Minerva could be a cunning and powerful ally.
"Today?" Dumbledore repeated. "His birthday? Perhaps it would interrupt his aunt's arrangements for his birthday party. The boy may be surrounded by his young friends. Hardly a discreet situation in which to reveal such sensitive information. Surely tomorrow would be better, Severus—"
"It is convenient for me to attend to this today, and I would have thought I had established my credentials for secrecy and discretion." Snape was tired of games. "The boy can consider the letter a birthday gift. The key, if you please, Headmaster."
He looked directly in Dumbledore's eyes, and thought, with no attempt to shield his mind, Sod all if I'm going to wait for morning. Dumbledore's bushy eyebrows rose in mild surprise, but the key was duly handed over. Snape gave the table a curt nod and strode away, girding himself to face an old acquaintance and a noisy children's party in darkest Surrey.
Note: This story also exists in an illustrated version! Check my profile for details.