Never Make Promises
By Elizabeth Sofia
Disclaimer: If I knew how to make a profit off of this, I probably would. But I don't, so you shouldn't worry
The faces at the head table had been grim all year. But as owl after owl arrived at the Slytherin table during breakfast, the Hogwarts' faculty grew ever more somber. A tense look flashed between Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall. Professor Sprout gasped at the sight of each silvery envelope.
Just let any of them try and say anything, Severus Snape snarled mentally. He bent low over his coffee and tried not to seem moved by the situation, but his cheeks burned with shame. No matter how many times he tried to tell himself that it had everything to do with family lines and nothing to do with his personal guidance, he couldn't escape the fact that owls were not dropping summons onto the Hufflepuff table.
Vincent Crabbe. Gregory Goyle. Millicent Bulstrode. Draco Malfoy.
He checked them off, one by one. He remembered calling those names on their first night in Hogwarts' castle, registering each snotty little face. And here they were, all grown up and ready to slaughter. What a proud day for Slytherin.
Severus noticed, with a sick sort of amusement, that Pansy Parkinson had not received a letter. She was visibly distraught, alternately gaping at her house mates and staring into her pumpkin juice. When Draco raised a cooly questioning eyebrow in her direction her face reddened and crumpled. Pansy was nearly in tears when a final owl swooped into the great hall and deposited an envelope.
All present and accounted for.
Blaise Zabini was quietly spreading marmalade on a piece of toast, paying as little attention to his fellow seventh-years as possible.
And Severus was immediately shot back in time two years--to the night he caught Zabini wandering around the corridors, muttering to himself.
Much in accordance with his students' perception of him, Professor Severus Snape liked to dole out punishment. It broke the monotony. And so when he heard Zabini approaching he had simply waited. As the boy passed him by, completely missing his lean, dark form in the shadows, Snape had reached out an arm and grabbed him by the shoulder.
"Mr. Zabini," The name was bitten off crisply in the hope of startling the boy.
"Professor," Blaise Zabini had quietly regarded his head-of-house. No stuttered apologies, no hasty explanations.
"Might I ask why you are out of the dormitory this late at night?" One calm response deserved another.
Zabini had stared at the ground for a few seconds, as if deciding what to say. "I couldn't stand it in there. It's an...an incestuous, ignorant pit."
Severus had felt hope, that long mislaid emotion, flutter against his rib- cage. Still, best not to move too suddenly...
"What exactly do you mean by that, Mr. Zabini?"
"They all sit around, talking about the revolution and the glorious future, and not a single one of them can explain how it's actually going to happen. They're so secure with their money, and their ranks, and..."
"Ranks in what, Mr. Zabini?"
Blaise Zabini had met Severus' eyes with a dissatisfied glare, "Look, no one's that daft, Professor. Everyone at this school knows that Draco is poised to become a follower of Voldemort, first-class."
Severus nodded. He'd had to make sure. For all he knew, this could be a test. "And that doesn't appeal to you, Mr. Zabini?"
Zabini had snorted and shaken his head.
"What, are you frightened, Mr. Zambini? No Slytherin ambition?" That syrupy mocking voice. Severus had almost forgone is altogether, but he had to make sure.
"But Professor...it's not going to work."
Severus had nodded, stunned that the student's realization. It wasn't a lack of desire for power that kept Blaise Zabini apart from the plottings of his house mates; it was the realization that Voldemort was not going to win. Severus could have cried.
"Besides," Zabini had continued, "My Girlfriend...she's in Ravenclaw. Her parents..."
The boy had trailed off, and Severus had acknowledged his sentiment with a nod. Of course. Love. "Well Mr. Zabini," Severus Snape's voice was not kind, but it was gentler than it had been in years. "The next time I catch you out after curfew, I will be required to take points. And I know it would not be pleasant to have to explain that loss to your fellow students. We shall consider this your warning."
If Blaise Zabini had been surprised at his lack of anger or response to his somewhat personal confession, he hadn't shown it. He'd simply thanked Severus, and continued down the hall.
"Oh, and one more thing Mr. Zabini."
At this, Blaise had stiffened and turned around, obviously expecting some sort of reprimand.
"I do trust you know about the secret room between here and Ravenclaw tower? I greatly dislike having to break apart couples...talking...in the halls."
With that grand concession, Severus Snape had stalked back towards his quarters, leaving a stunned Blaise Zabini in the corridor behind him.
And now, although Zabini was obviously shunned by his house mates, Severus could see him sharing meaningful glances with a dark-haired Ravenclaw.
Well, there's one less soul on my conscience tonight.
Snape tried to maintain his cynical outlook on the situation, but when the Ravenclaw girl smiled at Zabini and he flushed with pride in spite of his isolation, Severus almost indulged in a smile.
But then his eyes drifted over to the Gryffindor table, a-buzz with whispers and glares directed at the Slytherins. It was obvious that everyone in Gryffindor knew exactly what was going on and was intent on making his or her feelings about the situation known to anyone who cared to listen. Everyone except, of course, Hermione Granger who kept her face buried in a book.
Severus squinted, trying to make out the title. It was too far away to discern clearly. He could have used magic, but it wasn't that important. He wasn't sure why he'd wanted to know, anyhow.
Hermione caught him squinting in her direction and lifted an eyebrow. Severus Snape blinked his eyes and shook his head lightly, pretending he'd simply been staring into space. She stared at him for a moment longer, shrugged, then returned to her book.
"There will be a staff meeting during lunch," Albus Dumbledore quietly informed the head table as he made his way towards the door.
Why, whatever about, Headmaster? Severus longed to ask, his voice dripping with sarcastic innocence.
It galled him that Dumbledore allowed this little charade to play out every year. And it outright infuriated him that no one would actually mention the bloody white elephant planted in the middle of the room.
He idly wondered exactly how violently the tables would turn if he waltzed into the meeting and informed the staff that the Gryffindor Golden Girl had a summons lying in a drawer in her bedside table as well.
"Just look at them. It makes me sick."
Hermione tried to shut out the sound of Ron's angry whisper as she turned another page. The Master and Margarita. She hadn't actually absorbed a single sentence from the last three pages, but she figured she'd keep up the facade. Hell, most of her life seemed to be bordering upon lying of one sort or another lately.
"You'd think they'd have a little decency. What with Harry and all..."
At this Hermione snorted into her coffee. This garnered her confused and insulted glares from Seamus Finnegan, who had made the comment, as well as Ron, Ginny, and any other Gryffidnor within earshot.
Hermione sighed, "I'm just saying that Draco and his friends–when they aren't actually trying to cause bodily harm to him themselves–have never seemed very concerned about Harry. Why should they start now?"
If the rest of the table was offended by her lack of outrage, they still couldn't argue with her logic. With some non-committal muttering, everyone went back to eating.
Hermione felt as if she was being watched–and she had a feeling she knew who was doing the watching. A quick glance up to the head table confirmed her suspicions. What could he possibly want, glowering like that?
She quirked an eyebrow up at him, a silent question that shot through the space between them. He quickly straightened up and blinked, trying to appear as if he hadn't even been aware he was looking at her.
Typical. But Hermione still felt a heady rush of power at momentarily flustering the Potions Master. Or as close to flustering as was possible.
Setting her book down beside the bowl of corn flakes, Hermione propped her elbows on the table and pressed her closed eyelids into the heels of her hands.
Last night had completely drained her. She had touched the envelope and that familiar pain had rushed through her body. Without needing to read the letter, she had know what it said:
You have shown your consistent superiority over your peers. Allow me to present you with...An Opportunity.
Your presence and considerable intellect is requested at a gathering, at my residence, on December the Twenty-First. I trust this will give you sufficient time to weigh your...options.
The loopy script had embedded itself into her brain, searing every flowy letter with a fresh flash of pain. And then a dazzling scene had played itself out on the back of her fluttering eyelids. She could see the gathering: lush furnishing, music, soft light, laughter.
A circle of eager listeners gathered around her as she wound her mental path down one arithmantic path, then another. Her words were confident, her voice musical.
Even as pain seemed to be turning her body to ash, she had wanted to stay in the image.
But then, as she was willing her entire consciousness to capture her place in the fantasy, she had sensed something. A pungent, malevolent, leering force lurking in the background of the party, the listeners, her own words.
Her mind had seemed to turn in on itself, and everything had turned black and rushed away from her, leaving her feeling like a empty shell, with laughter–the most sickening, soul-scorching laughter echoing through her tortured brain.
And as her eyes had flashed open and she snapped to reality once again, it had hit her. That was reality for Harry. That dark, insidious laughter. Over and over.
The pain had no longer seemed to matter, even though residual shocks were causing her to shake like a leaf. The fact that she was collapsed in Professor Snape's lap with hot tears of fear and anguish running down her cheeks seemed unimportant. She had spoken before she had even realized she was forming the words.
I'll do it.
Gods, Hermione didn't even know what "it" was.
And even if she did, she seemed an unlikely christ-figure, even with Harry out of commission.
After giving her word, Hermione didn't remember much. Given that she had woken up at three o'clock in her own bed, she had somehow gotten back to her room. But she had no recollection of the journey from the front gate to Gryffindor tower. She must have come-to enough to walk herself, because she highly doubted that Snape had carried her. Not only did it seem like a task he would be vehemently opposed to performing, it would have been the shock of the century had any of her house mates had awoken to find the snarling Potions Master in the midst.
With a yawn and a smirk at that image, Hermione returned herself to the present.
Things seemed to have died down a bit, and the conversation among Ron, Ginny and Seamus had half-heartedly turned towards Quidditch. Hermione looked up in time to see the Headmaster say something to the staff and then make his way out of the Great Hall. That was odd. Dumbledore never left meals early. In fact, he could always be counted upon to be the last person to leave the hall, often joining whatever stragglers were left in an extra helping of dessert. Her first year, when Hermione had found herself very much friendless, she had shared several slices of Pumpking Pie and mugs of hot chocolate with Albus Dumbledore. He'd never mentioned her dilemma, simply engaged her in a discussion about Muggle-Wizzard relations. In fact–
Hermione's reverie was interrupted by the sight of Snape moving quickly out of the hall after Dumbledore. His mouth was set in a firm line, but there was an uncharacteristic flush in his cheeks.
Wanting to intercept him, Hermione threw her book into her bag and ran to catch up with his long strides. She had a few questions to ask him.
Upon reaching the door, Snape was nowhere to be seen. A quick glance to the left and right revealed a swish of black robes rounding the corner to the dungeons. Ah, so he isn't actually following the Headmaster.
Hermione quickly followed Snape, who stopped abruptly when he heard footfalls behind him. "Yes, Miss Granger?"
His sneering question held none of the understated softness of the tone he'd used last night. Hermione found herself caught off-guard and suddenly realized that she had no idea how she was supposed to bring up the issue she wanted to discuss with him.
Severus Snape watched the girl flounder for a few seconds before interrupting. "Miss Granger, I realize that none of your Gryffindor playmates want to make conversation with you, but that is not my concern. Surely you can find someone else to listen to you blather."
Color quickly rose in Hermione's fair cheeks and she could feel it spreading across her face and down to her chest. "That's a tad rude."
Severus could tell that she'd meant to sound biting, but only succeeded in sounded supremely hurt. Perhaps on a better day he'd have apologized, but today was not that day. "Rude. Well, I'm sorry Miss Granger, but I'm afraid I don't have the time this morning to attempt to live up to your expectations of my etiquette. In case you hadn't noticed, I have a few chosen students of my own to worry about."
As Snape turned on his heel and stalked away, Hermione called after him, "Professor, why didn't their summons curse them the way mine did?"
Severus froze mid-step. Why, indeed?
He turned back around and met Hermione Granger's eyes across the six-feet of empty corridor between them. She stared back at him, eyes wide and watery and scared. After a minute of silence, he gave her the only answer that came to mind, "I don't know."
Author's Note: So, yes, I have resurrected this fic! Mostly due to the wonderful reviews I received–thank you, everyone, for caring enough about this story to tell me what you thought.