The Softly Simmering Cauldron

Disclaimer: Not mine

A little foray into all things Snape, because I've never really explored him much before.

Severus Snape stalked the corridors of Hogwarts, wishing he could find someone else to teach his class. He was dreading it. He'd been dreading it since the beginning of the term, possibly even before. He'd caught a glimpse of the Potter child at the start of term feast, but hadn't seen him since. Even from afar, Severus could see that he looked just like his dunderhead of a father. Judging from the way he strutted to his table after he was sorted into Gryffindor, he'd inherited his father's personality as well - all brashness and swagger with no substance. For the boy's sake, he hoped not. He hoped the boy would be like his mother. Severus had always hoped that for him - and for Lily. James Potter had been a buffoon. Severus still couldn't understand what Lily had ever seen in him. He must have been slipping her a love potion. There simply was no other explanation.

Students seemed to part like the waters of the Red Sea as Severus passed, and he arrived in the dungeons faster than he would have thought possible. It irritated him to think that he intimidated the students so much. He didn't see himself as being particularly frightening; the students feared him because he saw through them. All of them. And they hated it when he was able to put name to the truths they wished to hide. He'd always been able to read people, even before he learned legilimency. He reckoned it was the result of growing up with his father; when one's immediate health and comfort depend upon being able to read the moods of others, one learns quickly how to do just that.

He'd discovered legilimency by accident during a fight with Potter his second year. Potter was lying - feeding McGonagall some story about Severus hexing him, and, worse yet, McGonagall was starting to believe him. Everyone always did the moment he flashed his charming smile. It made Severus sick the way everyone winked at his bullying. Like it didn't matter because he was good at quidditch. Just once, he wanted someone to do something about it. Just once, he wanted Potter to actually pay the price for something. Anything.

The moment McGonagall turned her accusing glare on Severus, his temper bubbled over and he flung himself at Potter, knocking him to the ground. He straddled him and grabbed the front of his robes, shaking him. "Tell the truth!" he screamed, and suddenly his mind was filled with pictures. Pictures of Potter and his friends. Pictures of Potter and his parents. And, finally, a picture of Potter stealing a kiss from Lily and Lily blushing shyly.

Potter pushed him away then and sprang to his feet. "Son of a bitch, Snape!" he exclaimed. "What the fuck did you just do?" And suddenly Severus realized that Potter had just seen everything he'd seen. They had both momentarily forgotten McGonagall was there until she grasped them both by an ear and dragged them to her office. Potter immediately snitched, telling her that Severus had somehow read his mind, and McGonagall had regarded him as though he were a freak.

The rest of the students agreed when Potter ran off and told everyone what had happened, and Severus was even more of an outcast than he'd ever been. An older student - a seventh year Slytherin - explained legilimency to him and taught him discreetly, introducing him to the whole new world that was the Dark Arts. By the end of the year, it had become an obsession. He saw endless possibilities in the Dark Arts. If he could master them, he could do anything. He could protect himself from his father, and from Potter. He could rescue Lily from their bleak little town and take her somewhere she'd never have to feel sad again, and she would finally love him as much as he loved her.

Severus opened the door and was met with a familiar flurry as students hastened to look innocent. As was always the case when Gryffindors and Slytherins were together, they had segregated themselves, like competing armies in their separate camps. These were only first years; they'd been here less than a day, and yet the prejudices had already begun. The first year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, when he had them, would do the same for a few weeks, but then they would begin to sit mottled together, smiling and laughing whenever his back was turned. The Gryffindors and Slytherins, he knew from experience, would never mesh. Even now, when they didn't yet know one another, the students eyed one another suspiciously as though the center of the room were a battle line and the first person to step a toe across it would begin their great war. Why, oh why, did his first class of the term have to be this? As if having Harry Potter in his class wasn't going to be difficult enough.

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking," Severus began. He'd perfected the speech over the years. By the time he had finished, the students would be awed into silence and hanging on his every word. As he spoke, he watched Harry Potter, who wasn't listening at all and was instead scribbling on a bit of parchment - doodling, no doubt. His father had always done that and then begged to copy someone else's homework when he didn't know how to do it. Lupin would always let him, the idiot, and then somehow Potter got the top marks. The injustice of it still rankled Severus down to his very soul.

Potter had had no head for the subtlety of Potions. He'd had no head for subtlety of any sort, really. The only thing he really excelled at was blowing things up, which he did often, and with great gusto. Lily, though, had been a master at them. Suddenly, Severus wanted to know if Harry had any pieces of Lily in him.

"Potter," he snapped. Harry's head shot up and Severus was nearly taken aback. Dumbledore had said he had his mother's eyes, but Severus had had trouble envisioning it. Yet, here it was before him. Lily Evans' eyes, full of apprehension and perhaps a little fear, staring out of James Potter's face. The pain was almost more than Severus could bear. His sinuses stung painfully and he swallowed past the lump in his throat before he spoke to the child, his voice sounding much harsher than he intended it. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

A Gryffindor hand shot into the air, and Severus ignored it. There was one of those in every year, though usually it was a Ravenclaw. Harry, on the other hand, stared at him blankly a moment before stuttering that he didn't know. Severus' heart fell. He clearly had not inherited his mother's head for Potions.

"Tut, tut," Severus heard himself say. "Clearly fame isn't everything." He scolded himself as soon as the words left his mouth, trying to remind himself that it wasn't the child's fault he was Potter's son. He looked into his eyes, as full as they could be of hurt and confusion, and decided to give the boy another chance. An easier question this time.

"Let's try again. Where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?" Surely he would know that. Everyone knew that.

"I don't know," Harry said with a placid shrug.

Severus' temper flared as he spat out something about the child thinking he could get away with not opening a book before he came. He barely heard the words that barreled out of his mouth, so focused was he on the buzzing of thoughts in his mind. Didn't the boy read? Didn't he know anything? Didn't he care that his mother had loved Potions? She'd died for him, and he couldn't be bothered to study even the basics of her favorite subject?

Lily had been beautiful. Beautiful and perfect. Too good for the likes of James Potter. Too good to ever suffer. Too good to be killed in cold blood. She was the only person who ever truly loved Severus. His parents didn't, he'd come to understand over the years. His father would never love anything as much as he loved a bottle. He heard that the man had repented after his wife died. He'd given up on alcohol and become downright pleasant, but Severus had never visited him to find out. He hadn't spoken to the man since his mother's funeral and likely never would. Severus felt nothing regarding his father anymore. Only the numbness that years of heartache had wrought.

As for his mother, well, she did the best she could. Ultimately, though, Severus was not so much a son to her as a tool. He reckoned she liked the concept of Severus being her son so much more than she actually liked having Severus as her son. She'd never related to him in any real way, never really bothered to get to know him. Through most of his childhood, she was just sort of there, present physically but not emotionally - going through the motions. Except when her rages struck and she would look at Severus like he was a piece of dung on her shoe. "You look just like your father," she would say. "I ought to smack you." She never had smacked him, perhaps realizing somewhere deep down that it wasn't his fault he looked like his father, but the fear that she might was always there.

You look just like your father. I ought to smack you.

The words echoed through his mind and guilt took him. Harry was not James, and it wasn't his fault he looked like the man any more than it had been Severus' fault he resembled Tobias.

Severus forced his voice to soften and lobbed the easiest question he could think of at Harry, knowing the child would be glad once he had redeemed himself. Lily had been like that, anyway: beating herself up whenever she felt she'd disappointed anyone and going out of her way to seek redemption for failures that were often imagined. She'd been the best of them all, Lily. Severus would never forgive the Dark Lord for killing her. For taking her away from him.

"Tell me this, what is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

The overeager girl was now practically out of her seat, waving her hand around frantically. Severus really wished she'd stop. He'd never been able to abide a know-it-all. Perhaps because he himself had been one, back when he thought there was the slightest chance that his professors might give a Slytherin a fair shake. They hadn't, and in the end Lupin had become the teacher's pet, and he rubbed it in unmercifully and used it shamelessly to get his friends, The Marauders, out of trouble.

Harry's response this time was to point to the know-it-all, who was apparently called Hermione, and suggest - in a cheeky tone that was so classically James Potter it very nearly gave Severus flashbacks - that Severus ask her instead. Severus blinked twice as the realization sank in. The child had nothing of Lily in him. Nothing at all. He was a Potter through and through, and Lily was gone. There wasn't a piece of her left anywhere, except in Severus' own memory. A wave of grief hit Severus, so forceful that it was almost overwhelming, and he turned it outward, slapping Harry with a loss of points. The reproachful look in the child's eyes was so much like Lily the day she told Severus she no longer wanted to be his friend that that damned lump welled up in his throat again.

Severus bit back the urge to give the child the points back. If he was like his father, he'd exploit any weakness and push the envelope as far as he could to manipulate the people around him. Severus had vowed the night Lily died that he would never be manipulated again, and he certainly wasn't going to let a pint-sized celebrity with an ego bigger than Europe and an attitude to rival James Potter's be the one to get the better of him. He felt his features harshen as he corrected the boy's ignorance, answering all his own questions with scathing precision.

Harry glared at him all the while, his face sharp, angry, accusing. Severus forced his own temper down; he shouldn't let the child goad him so. That would only be giving him what he wanted. Instead, he jumped ahead, skipping his planned lecture on theory and starting the students on the potion he had planned to have them brew at the end of class.

"The instructions are on the board," he snapped, stalking over to sit down at his desk. Severus had long since mastered the art of controlling his own temper, though it got away from him in times like these. He opened the top drawer of his desk and reached inside to take out the framed picture of him with Lily, her emerald eyes smiling as they both laughed at a long-forgotten joke. It had been taken their fifth year, only a few weeks before their falling out. A tear streaked silently down his cheek and he lowered his head so the students wouldn't see. The teardrop fell on the picture right on top of Lily's face and streaked down the glass like rain. He blinked a lifetime of unshed tears away and wiped the picture with his sleeve, trying not to think about her being gone.

He looked up and caught sight of Harry, who was clearly more interested in his conversation with the red-haired boy who sat beside him than in the potion he was supposed to be brewing. He was stirring it in the wrong direction, for Merlin's sake. Surely he at least understood what widdershins meant.

"Stir it the other way, Potter," Severus said. Harry's eyes popped up, green and bright and full of nervousness again. Lily's eyes in Potter's face. But there was none of Lily in the boy. His last hope for her was gone. His last wish for her had not been granted. He had loved her as well as he could, but it hadn't been enough. He had never been able to love her well enough. He had never been able to love her as well as she deserved, and Potter had destroyed her. He'd managed to destroy everything Severus had ever worked for. Everything he'd ever hoped for. Everything he'd ever loved.

And here Harry sat before him, a painful reminder of all he had lost. It was almost too much to bear, but he would bear it for her. As he watched Harry work, he vowed once again to protect Lily's son. And perhaps he could even chase some of his father out of him and make him into a decent person. Perhaps. He would try, at the very least. He owed it to Lily, his love. He put the picture away slowly, not wanting to take his hand away from it, away from her, and rose to watch Harry labor over his softly simmering cauldron.