Chapter Two: The Hogwarts Muggle Film Festival
On a gray February evening six months after the death of Charity Burbage, Severus Snape, now headmaster of Hogwarts, sat at dinner in the Great Hall surveying his troubled fiefdom.
At mealtimes the changes at the school over the past year were particularly dramatic. The student ranks had thinned considerably, what with the expulsion of Muggle-borns and the ominous disappearance of others, like Luna Lovegood. Yet it was not solely diminished numbers that replaced the former roar of conversation and laughter with a subdued hum. A mood hung over the hall dark as the trailing robes of dementors. Hunching their shoulders, the remaining students spoke—if they spoke at all—in tense low voices, glancing around frequently as if afraid of being overheard. Even the Slytherins, who might be expected to be happiest with the new regime, were quiet. Draco Malfoy, formerly arrogant prince of purebloods, looked downright haunted: dark circles under his eyes, he slumped in his seat, twitching at every sound.
The most immediate cause of the changed atmosphere was the pair seated to the right of Snape at the staff table: Alecto and Amycus Carrow, the brother and sister who were Voldemort's picks for, respectively, the posts of Muggle Studies and Dark Arts teachers (there was no longer a pretense of instructing students how to deflect dark magic). Pudgy, coarse, and incurably sadistic, the Carrows interpreted their job responsibilities as torturing troublesome students—which, given the constant state of covert rebellion at the school, included pretty much everyone in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. The Carrows' preferred method for dealing with miscreants was either to use the Cruciatus curse on them or to compel other students to do so—many of whom, resisting, were themselves cursed by those who obeyed (mainly Malfoy's erstwhile sidekicks Crabbe and Goyle). The Carrows also enjoyed using their wands to hex slashes on the hands and faces of troublemakers, which meant that these days the Great Hall resembled a camp for refugees from a war zone. On this February evening, at least twenty students sported noticeable wounds and bruises.
Reining in the Carrows while not appearing to do so was Snape's latest impossible balancing act. Relieved that being stationed at Hogwarts exempted him from being asked to commit atrocities with the Death-Eaters, he was still forced to be an apparently complicit spectator of cruelty and injustice. For, though he was nominally Headmaster, Snape was not in fact in charge of discipline, that power resting in the hex-happy hands of Alecto and Amycus. Any protest of their cruelty on Snape's part, any attempt to improve conditions, would be gleefully reported to Voldemort. Indeed, Snape suspected that the odious pair had been quartered at Hogwarts not only to enforce a reign of terror but to spy on him.
So here he was again, seemingly the ally of thugs, covertly working to restrain their excesses while being loathed by the very people he was trying to protect.
It was, of course, nothing new to Snape to be hated by students. But it was the hatred of faculty that wounded him more than he had anticipated, and certainly more than he could show. Outsider though he had been teaching at Hogwarts, Snape realized that he had come to take for granted even the limited cameraderie he shared with his colleagues. They might not like him, they might not entirely trust him, but they tacitly accepted and even respected him. Following Dumbledore's death at his hand, all that had changed. If looks could kill, he was well aware that the hostile glares of the staff would pepper him with as many arrows as a hedgehog has quills.
Minerva McGonagall's coldness hurt the most. Though in the past she had disapproved of his snarkiness with students and favoritism for Slytherins, they nevertheless had much in common: formidable intellect, high standards, a redoubtable impatience with slackness and inattention. Often, in fact, they had sat together at meals in the Great Hall, trading dry witticisms like sips of champagne. Tonight, however, though she sat at Snape's left she had moved her chair as far from his as possible. Tight-lipped, her very posture radiating disapproval, she turned her back to talk in low tones to Professors Sprout and Flitwick, the latter of whom periodically shot the Headmaster murderous looks. The diminuitive instructor had evidently not forgotten that Snape had Stupified him the night Dumbledore died, after Flitwick had raced to Snape's office to beg his help in fighting Death-Eaters. Snape had only stunned Flitwick to keep him safe from the melee, but since the Charms instructor knew nothing of this he looked, whenever he passed the Headmaster in the hall, as if his fingers were itching to grab his wand and retaliate.
No, these days Snape's only friends were the dead Headmaster's portraits, especially of course Dumbledore's.
Snape stifled an incipient sigh. As always, he could not allow himself the luxury of seeming to care.
There was only one gesture he permitted himself when the weight of ostracism and anxiety became too heavy, and he performed it now: casually brushing his hand against that spot near his heart where, secreted in an inner pocket, lurked a photo of a laughing Lily Evans and a page bearing her signature. He had cast a complicated web of spells on both scraps to make them appear blank to prying eyes. But in the privacy of his chamber he could still look at these cherished relics, and in public he could, by touching that part of his robes which hid them, gather a little courage to toil on at his thankless and Herculanean labors.
As he mulled over these things Snape's meditations were interrupted by the sound of a massive belch. Rising, Amycus Carrow slouched off to digest the mountain of food he had just consumed. Still chewing stolidly, his sister as yet showed no sign of being ready to join him. Feeling Snape's eyes on her, she looked up, unpleasantly displaying a half-masticated mouthful, and mumbled something he was unable to understand except for a word that sounded like "Longbottom."
"What?" he questioned sharply. Alecto scowled at being compelled to swallow her food but complied.
"Longbottom boy," she mumbled, "giving Amycus 'n me a load of trouble, the blood traitor. Acts out in both our classes. Can't shut him up."
She glared in the direction of the Gryffindor table. As if aware he was under discussion, Neville lifted his head and coolly met the Headmaster's gaze. Snape had to admit he was impressed. Four years ago Neville had been so afraid of Snape that the professor appeared as his boggart. Since he had joined Potter to fight at the Department of Mysteries two years ago, however, Neville had proved he possessed the courage of a true Gryffindor. As a result, these days he sported a particularly extensive selection of bruises and cuts. Snape frowned—an expression no doubt interpreted by Neville as a sign of displeasure, but in fact registering the headmaster's concern over the boy's condition. Given the relative paucity of purebloods, Amycus and Alecto probably did not intend to seriously harm any of their charges. Yet so incompetent were the duo at anything except torture that Snape could easily imagine one or the other irretriveably maiming or even killing a student by sheer accident. Looking more closely at Neville, Snape saw that one of the slashes on his cheeks was worrisomely deep and even looked infected. The headmaster would have to make sure Madam Pomfrey took a look at it—without, of course, betraying undue sympathy with rebellious students.
It was all such a headache. Snape's efforts to thwart the Carrows involved schemes which were convoluted even for him. Appalled by the reckless use of the Cruciatus curse on children, at one point he put the Carrows temporarily out of commision: if he could not buy the students a lengthy respite, he could at least give them a few days of peace. It all took careful planning, however. First he spread a rumor on a trip to the Three Broomsticks that a nasty stomach bug was making its rounds, a rumor Madam Rosmerta obligingly relayed to the other teachers. Then, a day or so later, Snape—with a sleight of hand a pickpocket might admire—sprinkled on Amycus's dinner plate a powder compounded of potion ingredients that would cause flu symptoms and a Puking Pastille from a Weasley brothers' Skiving Snackbox which Dumbledore had considerately left in a desk drawer. The ensuing, and dramatic, projectile vomiting was the more entertaining because Alecto was its target. As this also made it credible that she would "catch" her brother's ailment, Snape repeated the ruse the following evening. Unfortunately, he did not have as much fun this time since Alecto threw up all over him. Admittedly the rest of the school—including his fellow teachers—found this utterly hilarious.
And then there had been the episode where he had discovered Neville, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood removing the Sword of Gryffindor from his office, unaware that it was a fake. Shuddering to think of what would happen if the Carrows were in charge of their punishment, Snape dared to assert his right to determine it instead. In this usurpation of Carrow territory he was aided by the fact that, like most bullies, the pair were actually cowards. Though they would never admit it, Snape knew the two were afraid of him; from several comments they let fall, too, Snape gathered they were terrified of the Forbidden Forest. Thus, when the headmaster staged a particularly impressive tantrum at the students' effrontery, Alecto and Amycus were only too glad to flee the room after quickly approving the penalty of spending a night in the forest, a penalty they evidently viewed as akin to a death sentence. Though the Carrows were surprised to see the troublemakers unharmed at breakfast the next day, they seemed to assume the trio had at least been properly terrorized. Snape was certain, of course, the three had in fact had a wonderful time with Hagrid, probably laughing at Snape for thinking the outing a punishment.
But what was he to do this time to protect the students? To repeat any of his earlier ploys could arouse suspicion.
An idea began to blossom in his brain, inspiring him to ask a question that sidestepped the issue of Neville's behavior.
"So what exactly are you doing in your classes these days, Alecto? What is your curriculum?"
His drawling voice was freighted with just the right amount of lurking scorn, and he was gratified to see a shifty look come over Alecto's face. She reminded him of a child caught out in some naughtiness and determined to lie about it.
My, my, Snape thought, if the woman weren't so vile one could almost feel sorry for her. She knows that she has not the slightest credentials for teaching and is afraid of being discovered for the fraud she is.
"I read the books to them," Alecto said defensively.
"You read the books to them?" Snape asked, his tone expressing incredulity at such laziness. "That is all you do? And what are the books?"
"The Natural Order," answered Alecto, "and The Great Mudblood Conspiracy."
Ah yes, the first a manifesto for purebloods who wished to enslave Muggles and Muggleborns, and the second a hysterical rant by a fellow so crazed he lives in a cave convinced that Muggleborns will murder him if he sets foot outside it. Just the tripe I'd expect you to pick. Although I must say I am surprised you're even literate enough to read to the students.
Of course he said none of this aloud; in fact, he said nothing at all, just gazed at her superciliously. As he suspected, she started babbling nervously.
"Well, what 'm I supposed to do?" she asked shrilly. "I mean, how many times can you say `Muggles are scum'? It's so obvious, in't it?" she appealed.
Careful, Snape said to himself, don't make her think she has to do something dramatically different; she'd probably take her classes on field trips to torture Muggles. But what could she do that would give the students a break—while not understanding what she was doing?
And the answer came to him as smoothly and suddenly as if he had worked out the details hours ago. But I did not, he thought, it was Charity's idea, though she surely never dreamed I would use her lesson plan this way.
He was remembering another scene with Charity in the teacher's lounge, a few months after the brownie incident—though on this occasion they were not alone. Instead, the lounge was filled with teachers having tea following their afternoon classes. Snape had just settled in an armchair near the fire with a pile of Potions essays, though he found himself, like others, drawn into the animated conversation between Charity Burbage and Professors McGonagall and Sprout.
"Well," Charity had been saying to them, "I'm glad I got Albus to invest in that television set and VCR."
"The what and the what?" laughed Minerva.
"Television," Charity repeated patiently. "And VCR. That's a machine you can hook up to the telly and play movies on."
"Telling vision?" Pomona laughed. "That sounds like something Sybil would do!"
Trelawney was not there to object to the comparison of the Inner Eye to Muggle electronics.
"No, no," Charity said, "Haven't you heard of Muggle television?"
"Indeed!" Filius Flitwick had piped up. "Moving pictures that tell stories. Sounds like fun—don't know why wizards haven't borrowed the idea. All we have is wireless radio. No visual stimulation at all."
"Television is a good idea!" Charity beamed, as she did whenever Muggle inventions were appreciated. "At least, it can be if there's something intelligent on, which I'll confess isn't always. Anyway, I thought I'd use the VCR to show my classes some Muggle movies—cinema, you know. It's a great way of learning about Muggle culture."
She'd had to explain the difference between television shows and movies for some of them, before Minerva had asked which films she'd be showing.
"It was hard to decide," Charity had answered. "I think I'll be doing more eventually, but I've decided on just a few to begin with. One of them is so silly, it's more for fun than anything else, though we can use it to talk about the Muggle fascination with extra-terrestials in the post-World War II period. It's an American film from the 1950s called Plan Nine from Outer Space, and it's a cult classic—a sci-fi film that's supposedly one of the worst films ever made."
"Of course," she'd gone on once she'd finished explaining about cult classics and sci-fi, "I have to make it very clear to the students that I'm including this one because it's too hilarious to miss, not because I'm making fun of Muggle culture in general. After all, who said the wizarding world's taste is so stellar? Just think about Celestina Warbeck, I mean honestly . . . "
"Don't tell Molly Weasley that," Minerva pointed out.
"Anyway," Charity went on, "it's a good thing to have a film to laugh at, because the next one I'm showing isn't funny at all. It's actually rather traumatic, but I feel they have to see it. It's all too relevant to our world, alas."
And she told them about a recent award-winning film called Schindler's List. "It's about the Holocaust," she said, "you do know what that is, don't you? When the Nazis killed millions of Jewish people in the 1940s?"
The professors had heard about this, though most knew relatively little about it. "Wasn't that during Grindelwald's time?" asked Professor Sinistra. "Do you think he influenced the Muggles' ideas somehow?"
Charity shook her head, her face somber. "I know that's a theory, but I think the Muggles would have done the same things without Grindelwald. The roots were there in Muggle culture, just as they are in wizard culture—you know, thinking of a group as subhuman, so it doesn't matter if they're all enslaved or killed.
There was a moment's silence as the others considered this point and its connection to their own history.
"But the movie is called Schindler's List," Minerva reminded Charity. "What list? Was Schindler a person?"
Charity's sober look gave way to her typical enthusiastic glow.
"That's the part that's inspiring," she said, "and that's why I'm showing this particular movie about the Holocaust to my students. I want them to see how, even when some people are giving into evil and hatred, others can make very different choices. Oskar Schindler was a German businessman, himself a member of the Nazi party, who became horrified by the murder of the Jews. Though he'd previously exploited his workers to make lots of money, he died penniless after helping over a thousand Jews escape death. He made a list of Jews he claimed were needed in his factories, and, despite the very real danger to his own life, he managed to talk the Nazi authorities into sparing the people on the list."
She looked pensive again. "You know, there's been some controversy about the film. There're those who complain that it idealizes Schindler, that he was really a dodgy sort who took bribes, that he was a heavy drinker, a womanizer . . ." She shrugged. "It doesn't make any difference to me, and I doubt it makes a difference to the Jews whose lives he saved. I mean, what do people expect, someone who goes around with a sign on his chest saying "hero"? Someone with a plaster halo dangling over his head?"
"That might arouse suspicion," Minerva admitted with characteristic dryness.
"Indeed," Charity replied. "No, I'm sure someone like Schindler was more likely to blend in. And anyway," she continued earnestly, "isn't it even more admirable if a man like that ends up doing the right thing than if it were someone who'd never had trouble being good? So what if Schindler was flawed—doesn't that make him finally more of a hero than less of one?"
Her gaze flicked to Snape before she looked away, a smile hovering about her lips.
Now, sitting at this table in the Great Hall several years later, Snape realized that he was about to do something that could be called poetic justice or incredible irony or just plain madness. But he had to do it. For Charity's sake. And that would be charity in more ways than one.
The thought flashed through his mind—What would the students say if they knew I was arranging for them to have a good time? Would they ever believe it? And he smiled slowly, his strange twisted smile that suggested not happiness so much as his having figured out the perfect method for boiling his enemies alive in toad guts. Good thing; when Alecto saw that expression she would be very, very frightened.
She did, indeed, look satisfyingly intimidated. Snape took the opportunity to move his chair fractionally closer to hers, his black eyes boring as relentlessly as a Hippogriff's into eyes which were much the same color as petrified bogeys. His right hand found his wand and slipped it out of his robes, pointing it, from a hidden position under the table, in her direction.
"Confundo," he murmured, his mind flashing back to last July and a similar session with Mundungus Fletcher. Like Fletcher's, Alecto's eyes had gone glassy and unfocused. "Tomorrow you will ask the House Elves to set up the television and VCR in the Hogwarts storeroom in your classroom, and you will give the Slytherins a week off for good behavior. Then you will ask the elves to show your classes the films they will find with the equipment. You will sleep soundly during the films, and you will forget afterwards you have done any of this. It was also never my idea; it was yours. Do you understand?"
"I unnerstand," Alecto murmured. "Elves, equipment, films, no Slytherins, my idea. Sleep durin' class."
"Good." Snape stood up. She did too, and trotted off meekly in the direction of her rooms.
He would need to watch her closely during the next few days; he had given her, like Mundungus, a lot of instructions, even more than Fletcher, really. Still, he could hover in the right place at the right time (such as the hallway outside her classroom) and repeat the Confundus charm or even use the Imperius curse to make her do exactly what he wanted. He would certainly leave her with no opportunity to realize she was showing a film about resistance to bigotry to her students, no chance to report any of this to Voldemort, and no chance for her brain to work out the analogies between Oskar Schindler and himself, although he doubted she would be capable of such advanced thought in the first place.
He wondered what the students would make of the Hogwarts Muggle Film Festival. Oh, they would laugh at Plan Nine from Outer Space—and they could use a laugh—while being inspired by Schindler's List. They would wonder why in the world their Muggle-hating teacher was showing the latter film, and probably assume she was identifying with the Nazi commander Amon Goeth and expecting them to do so too. Instead, they would find the movie gave them renewed courage to resist the Death Eaters. That might, of course, lead to more hazardous acts of bravery. Still, he had realized even before this that some of the more vociferous students would soon have to go into hiding—another thing for him to see to without the Carrows knowing.
Perhaps he should secretly watch Schindler's List again himself, to renew his resolve.
For he had watched the movie several years ago, after Charity described it. This project had entailed much fruitless fooling around with Muggle electronics while he worked out how to use the stuff without electrical outlets. He had found, to his astonishment, that the house elves somehow knew the proper spells, and had been struck, hard as it was to imagine, by the mental image of them curled up after their exhausting days, watching Muggle movies.
The film had mesmerized him. How he'd seen the parallels between the Nazis and the Death-Eaters, and between himself and Schindler, despite the latter's having a very different personality. Still, Snape was forcibly struck by scenes where Schindler talked the Nazi commandant into saving people's lives without realizing what he was doing. Snape imagined that, in all probability, he himself would soon be trying to pull off similar stunts with his own psychopathic master. As he had.
And now, on this February evening, walking through the halls of Hogwarts on the way to the headmaster's office, Snape's heart clenched as he remembered the scene where, after the war, Schindler blamed himself for not saving more lives. "I didn't do enough . . . I could have gotten one more person . . . and I didn't!" Perhaps some critics had objected to the scene as maudlin, claiming moreover that it had never really happened.
Well, thought Snape, it probably didn't. But we always think that, we Schindlers of the world; we always blame ourselves for the ones we couldn't save. As I do with you, Charity. As I always will.
Maybe he would also have to watch again another movie that reminded him of his own situation, a film also about resistance to the Nazis that he'd include in the pile of tapes the students got to see this week. After all, he had clandestinely invested in his own copy once he knew how to use the VCR.
He'd first seen this film long ago, during his own adolescence, in the summer between his third and fourth year at Hogwarts, one night when his mother was visiting cousins and his father was sleeping off his latest alcoholic binge. Into the wee hours of the morning young Severus had sat enthralled in front of the grainy TV, even then dimly realizing that the plot would prove awfully relevant to his later life.
Yes, Casablanca. A romantic triangle: two men in love with the same woman, who was married to the handsome one. The ugly, craggy-faced one (the actor was so unlike the typical leading man) drowned himself in bitterness before getting a second chance to win the woman. Too noble to take it, he emerged from his cynical funk to become a freedom fighter like the woman and her husband, whose lives he saved when they almost got captured.
Snape winced. He had tried to save the lives of Lily and James. And failed.
Still, he remembered the lines the craggy-faced man had spoken at the end of the film, as he urged the woman to leave, yet again, with his rival. "I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
Snape would have to remind himself how that sentiment applied to him, the sole survivor of the one-time triangle, and a very little person in a very crazy world.
Thinking of himself as little did not bother him as it once would have. It was astonishing, really, how much he'd changed during the last year. More and more the persona of supercilious, sneering Slytherin seemed to be just that, a persona, rather than some version of his real self. The temper tantrum he had thrown when he'd lost the order of Merlin four years ago seemed as remote as if it had happened when he was two. Day after day the shell in which he had wrapped himself for so long, the shell of outraged pride and inward self-hatred, fell away chip by chip. What was left behind was a kind of emptiness, though not the hollowness of loss and negation. Rather, his soul was like a once-stifling room cleared by the bracing clarity of cold air rushing in through an open window.
Soon there would be nothing left of him at all, of that he was sure. With every day his little life edged closer to its end. It would all come to a head soon; whatever Potter was doing out there would get done, and he would come back to the castle—Snape felt sure of this—to face Voldemort a final time. The boy would have to die too, Snape had learned; this still shocked him, though he could increasingly see it would take endless sacrifice to defeat the powers of darkness.
In the meantime, Snape would stay here, hidden, quiet, a force of resistance as secret as the knowing smile that used to lurk about Charity Burbage's lips when she met him in the halls.
He reached the stairway to the headmaster's office, and, having given the password of "sherbet lemon," entered the room.
The headmasters were snoozing peacefully in their frames on the wall. And, in the center of his desk, which he had left pristinely empty, lay a bright tin, like the one Charity received from her mother years before.
Snape halted in surprise. It occurred to him to be wary; after all, this could be some student prank. Yet a quickly murmured spell revealed no magic.
He prised open the lid and found himself staring at brownies, fragrant and fudgy.
His eyes swivelled to Dumbledore's portrait. But the old man continued to snore gently, though Snape thought he saw a fleeting, amused glint escape the closed eyelids.
Snape tasted a brownie. It was not so heavenly as the one he had eaten that fall afternoon in the teacher's lounge. Yet, as he leaned back in his chair in a rare attitude of relaxation and took another bite, he had to admit it was still pretty darned good.