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: Band of Four.
Severus Snape paused in his reading and looked up as the owl flew in his window. Unusually, the elderly creature headed directly for him instead of flapping off to look for his uncle. Deftly catching the letter it dropped towards him, he saw that it was embossed with the Hogwarts school crest. However, he had already received his equipment list for the new school year...
Sev tore open the envelope, and pulled out the letter. The Slytherin serpent on the shield at the top winked at him.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr. Snape,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to act as a Prefect for your house in the upcoming year. Please report to the headmaster's office immediately upon arrival on the first day of term.
Please be reminded that term begins on 1 September, and reading and equipment lists for the new term should have been received prior to this letter. As a Prefect, it is requested that you set a good example by obtaining the correct equipment and proper uniform for the year ahead.
Congratulations on your new appointment, and good luck in the upcoming term.
Sev regarded the letter thoughtfully for a few moments, then neatly folded it and tucked it inside his robes.
This was going to complicate matters.
On the train platform, he heard Lucius Malfoy before he saw him, spitting vitriol.
"Never heard anything like it," he spluttered to Colin Crabbe. "My father's never been so furious-" He spotted Sev, and waved him over. "Severus! Have you heard about this? There's been some kind of mistake with the Prefect appointments!"
"Clearly." Severus produced the official letter he'd been carrying around since he received it. "They gave it to me."
"What?" Malfoy snatched it out of his hands in disbelief. He read it once, folded it and then opened it again, as if expecting the name at the top to suddenly change. "This makes no sense!"
"I agree," said Sev dryly. Whilst he was unquestionably leading the pack in academic terms, Prefects were also chosen for their social and personal skills - qualities he had been quite deliberately doing the opposite of cultivating.
Lucius Malfoy, with his powerful charisma, Quidditch skills and not unimpressive test scores, would have been the obvious choice. The fact that he hadn't been awarded the position suggested that somebody somewhere had grave doubts about how he might use the authority he was given.
Sev himself happened to know the truth of that; he was one of the select few that Malfoy had inducted into the Death Eaters, the elitist secret society devoted to the 'purity' of wizardry. Whilst the others might be taken in by Malfoy's grandiose claims of a new order, Sev himself was dispassionately observing, seeking a way to gain access to the inner circle of the Death Eaters and learn their secrets.
Thus far, Malfoy had been able to completely hide his more dangerous side from even his deadliest enemies - James Potter and his Gryffindor friends might hate the Slytherins, but Sev doubted they realised how much deeper the feeling on the other side truly ran. However, the fact Malfoy he hadn't been selected spoke volumes.
There were two Prefects chosen from each house, one male, one female. Generally they were picked by a consensus, but if there was a disagreement then the heads of house would vote. In the event of a tie, Dumbledore could break it. Sev knew the headmaster was probably sharper than his co-workers when it came to reading people; had he been given the casting vote, he might well have vetoed Malfoy.
Anyway, whether it had been unanimous or an extremely tight thing, Sev had been voted in and Malfoy out. And whilst that made things awkward for the former, that was nothing on how furious it made the latter.
"I don't believe it! It's been rigged, somehow. Those damn Muggle-lovers have been whispering in Dumbledore's ear-"
Unfortunately for Malfoy, Sirius Black happened to walk by and catch him in the middle of his rant. The curly-haired Gryffindor stopped in mid-step to give a delighted cackle.
"Hah! They passed you over for Prefect, Malfoy? Oh, you just made my year. That's the funniest thing I've ever heard." He giggled almost childishly.
"You know where to shove it, Black," Malfoy told him icily. "Somehow I don't see you wearing a Prefect badge."
"No, but James and Lily are gonna," he said with an airy shrug. Sirius Black was hardly the type to care about badges of rank in any case. Power meant responsibility, something he was pretty close to allergic to.
Malfoy's normally pale face was growing close to purple. "A mudblood and a Muggle-lover? Well, if that's the best house Gryffindor can do, no wonder they wouldn't put me up against them. Wouldn't want to put you to shame, now would we?"
Sirius was always ready to start a fist-fight, but Remus Lupin was there to restrain him. "Let's tone it down a little, Sirius," he suggested mildly. "Let's try not to get expelled before term starts, okay?" He turned a sharp grin on Malfoy. "After all, we'd miss all the fun of watching Malfoy suffer."
He dragged his friend away, leaving Malfoy to grind his teeth impotently.
"It's a disgrace," he said darkly. "A blot on the name of wizardry. Those two, Prefects? Suddenly I'm glad I didn't get in." He nodded at Sev. "I feel sorry for you Severus... having to work with the likes of them. See if you can't accidentally curse them a few times, huh, do us all a favour." He scowled after the departing Remus and Sirius.
Sev hopped off the train at the Hogwarts platform and slipped away silently through the crowd. He was the first to arrive outside Dumbledore's office, and stood patiently waiting with his back against the wall.
James and Lily came dashing down the corridor moments later, giggling wildly together over something or other. James came to an abrupt stop when he saw Sev, and regarded him warily. "Snape," he said neutrally.
"Potter," returned Sev with a nod. They stood looking at each coolly for a moment, until Lily elbowed James out of the way.
"Behave. Both of you," she admonished. "We're supposed to be Prefects here."
"Pretty poor excuse for a Prefect," James muttered, backing off.
"You'd prefer Malfoy?" Lily muttered back. James shrugged and rolled his eyes.
"Oh, why do I care what the snakes do?"
Their fellow Prefects took a little longer to arrive. The Ravenclaw two were Penny Perks and Sol Ackerley. Penny greeted Lily warmly, but Sol reserved a nod for Sev as well as the other two. Of all the houses, Ravenclaw was the one with closest ties to Slytherin; the only other house that prized careful calculation over going with your gut feeling. Certainly, if Sev hadn't had the inherent deviousness that marked him pure Slytherin, his brains would have made him a natural for their house.
The two Hufflepuffs came dashing up shortly after, both out of breath. "I told you you'd make us late," objected a plump red-haired boy that Sev recognised as Derek Dobbs.
"I wanted to get my owl settled in," shrugged back his partner, Alena Vermisio. Alena was from a very rich, long established wizarding family, and was well renowned for throwing exclusive parties in the holidays. No doubt she would be bribing the younger kids into behaving with the merest hint of an invitation.
His fellow Slytherin was the last to appear; Sev wasn't particularly surprised to see that it was Narcissa. Narcissa Salenica was both bright and beautiful, but extremely cold with it, and so snooty she wouldn't give the time of day to anybody who couldn't explain what their great-great-grandfather had done for the wizarding world. Malfoy had staked his claim to her pretty early on, and even if any of the other boys had been brave enough to challenge him, trying to cosy up to Narcissa was about as effective as doing the same to an ice sculpture.
She arched her brows at the sight of Lily, and said in a faintly long-suffering voice "I wouldn't have expected to see you here."
Lily, ever ladylike, simply stuck her tongue out. "You should meet my sister Petunia," she observed. "You'd love her - you're both a pair of stuck up-"
"Ladies! Gentlemen!" Professor Dumbledore flapped into view, pulling off his usual trick of studiously not hearing what was being said by his pupils. He moved to the entrance of his office and said the password "Fizzing whizzbees." Lily and Alena giggled, but Narcissa just looked vaguely disdainful.
"Come in, come in." Dumbledore gestured expansively. They all crowded in, most of them curiously. Sev had been inside the office before, but most students went their whole time at Hogwarts without ever getting to see it.
Dumbledore's office was eclectic as his personality, stuffed with fascinating artefacts of all descriptions. James, never one to let well enough alone, immediately started surreptitiously poking and prodding things. Lily elbowed him in the ribs and hissed at him to behave himself.
Snape, although he didn't let it show on his face, was quietly amused. James looked faintly embarrassed, but did as he was ordered. He and Lily were getting more like an old married couple with every passing year.
"Now; to business," said Dumbledore. "Congratulations, all of you; I have no doubt that you will all do excellently in your new positions. If you'd like to take your badges?" He produced a small box from out of nowhere, in which lay eight coloured Prefect badges. He offered it around, and when it came to Sev he picked out one of the green ones and pinned it to his robes.
When they all had them pinned on, the headmaster beamed at them proudly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to take my place at the feast. No doubt you'd all like to go and join your friends? Your first duty will be to guide the first years to their dorms at the end of the feast. Professor Fractalis will talk to you about your other Prefect duties sometime next week. Congratulations, all."
He dashed off in a hurry, as if until that moment he'd completely forgotten the speech he made at the same time every year. The Hogwarts headmaster had quite perfected the art of looking vaguely confused about life in general; Sev, however, suspected it was far more of an act than most people ever realised.
As the newly-made Prefects trickled out of the office, James suddenly grabbed Lily's hand. "Did you cut yourself, Lil?" he asked, alarmed.
"Huh?" She rubbed her fingers together and inspected them. "No. I think the colour's rubbing off this badge." She ran her fingertips over the Gryffindor badge, and they came away streaked with red.
"Hey, mine too!" observed James.
"Ours are okay," Derek told him.
"It's probably a sign," Narcissa told him snootily. "You don't deserve to be Prefects, and even the badges know it."
"More like it's a sign of how those idiot Slytherins enchanted all the badges last year," Lily told him. "Remember how Professor Vitae spent ages trying to get the enchantment undone?" An enterprising group of Slytherins had put a spell on the Gryffindor Prefects so that their badges spelt out an entirely different word beginning with P. Professor Vitae had not been pleased.
"Yeah - and Malachite undid it in like three seconds," James observed. "Interesting, huh?" He gave the Slytherins a suspicious glance.
"Yes, Potter, our head of house has nothing better to do with his time than writing rude words on students' badges," Snape said dryly.
They returned to the feast, and Sev slipped into his customary place beside Malfoy. However, the look the blond boy turned on him was noticeably cooler than usual. "Ah, I see the Prefect has seen fit to grace us with his presence," he observed. It was couched as a gentle jibe, but Sev could feel the steel behind it all the same.
Malfoy had always had some serious control issues; he knew Sev was brighter than he was, and it grated. His position within the Death Eaters gave him the edge, but it was an advantage he jealously guarded. He might be scornful about the school and all of the teachers and pupils in it, but that didn't mean he didn't expect to be showered with honours for his brilliance. He had naturally expected to be a Prefect, and losing the position was a kick in the teeth. Losing it to the second-in-command who constantly threatened his position...
This was not good news for Snape's staying on the right side of Malfoy. This year, the fine line he tiptoed along was going to be narrower than ever...