(revised for minor corrections February 2013)
Disclaimer: I am not J. K. Rowling. I do not own Harry Potter.
Note: The following one-shot takes the form of a series of sketches of scenes occuring in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts. Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape feature. This is set in an alternate universe where, in the wake of events of Hallowe'en 1981, Severus Snape wants nothing more than to try and make the best (in his own way) that he can of the position he has been thrust into of a teacher.
Aftermath of Hallowe'en, November 1st, 1981
"Well: they're all dead. Apart from the one person that the Dark Lord actually wanted, above all the others, to kill." Severus said to Albus. "I hope that you're happy now. Your prophecy was apparently right."
"Severus? Are you alright?" Albus peered at the man anxiously. "You do not appear to be reacting quite how I had thought that you would."
"She's dead, headmaster, and won't be coming back. It's all over. How should I be reacting? It's pointless to make any more fuss about her."
"Lily may be dead, but she lives on, in her son, Harry. He has her eyes, you know…"
"No headmaster, I have seen enough pictures of the boy – even as a baby, bar a difference in hair tone, and that he lacks the glasses, he is James reborn, incorporating a corrupted fragment of what was once Lily. And I expect, given enough time, he will grow up to be the same arrogant, self-centred, egocentric prat, destructive to all around him, that both his parents were. And if I am fortunate, I will be a long way from Hogwarts, by the time that he arrives here, or at best I will not have to set eyes upon him except during potions classes – though I don't doubt you're already lining him up to be quidditch-captain, chief-prankster, and head-boy."
"Severus. I doubt that the Dark Lord is truly gone. Harry will need help and protection…"
"Then you can protect him, headmaster. Aren't you the only wizard that the Dark Lord ever feared? I am done with Potters, unless required to interact with them on a professional basis. Now, if you will excuse me, but unless you have anything pertinent to say to me, I have some essays to go and finish marking. Lily is dead, and I owe her nothing, and I consider any debts to James discharged by warning you in the first place that the Dark Lord was after them. It's not on me that you let them go under fidelius and employ what was clearly an unreliable secret keeper. The only people I owe anything to now are the students I teach – and you, for as long as you remain my employer in the teaching of students. I may not have wanted this damn job, which between the pair of you you and the Dark Lord conspired to thrust me into, but I am a Slytherin, I have my pride, and I'm damn well going to do it to the best of my ability – at least until you see fit to dismiss me."
There was a lengthy pause.
"I understand that you are hurting now, Severus," Albus said, "and in time I trust that you will come around to my way of thinking, but if what you need for the present is to play at being a teacher, then I shall permit that."
Aftermath of first Gryffindor/Slytherin first year potions class, September, 1991
"Neville Longbottom requires remedial potions classes. The boy's confidence is so shot, and his self-esteem so low, that he's a walking disaster zone in the potions class right now. If he were one of my Slytherins, I'd be investigating his home-situation for circumstances of abuse by one or more of his relatives, but he's a Gryffindor, so that falls within Minerva's purview. What is my concern is that right now I can't afford him to be anywhere near a cauldron in the middle of a class. He turned a simple boil-cure into something which melted a cauldron earlier today, which took a particular kind carelessness. He requires one-on-one tuition, with a reassuring presence."
"Hmm, yes, Severus. But what about Harry?"
"I am unaware, headmaster, of any student attending Hogwarts this year of the surname of 'Harry'."
"Harry Potter, Severus."
"Ah: Mr. Potter. As with many Gryffindors, he seems to regard it as reasonable to mess around in my classes because they are Gryffindors – and I am the head of Slytherin. I was pleasantly surprised that he seems slightly more subdued at the onset than I recall his father being, but I dare say that that will wear off. If he becomes overly disruptive, I shall simply eject him from my lessons, which I wish that Professor Slughorn had done with his father and his gang. However, getting back to Neville Longbottom…"
Aftermath of Gryffindor/Slytherin quidditch match, October, 1991
"What happened Severus?"
"Professor Quirrell, as far as I was able to determine, was jinxing Mr. Potter's broom. Mindful of your explicit written instructions – copies of which I have stored in a secure Gringotts vault – I left Professor Quirrell well alone, and instead started to make my way towards you – at a pace unlikely to cause suspicion or raise any alarm – through the crowd. As far as I can gather, whilst I was acting in accordance with the letters of directions you had given me on how to act in any circumstance pertaining to Professor Quirrell, Mr. Potter lost control of his broom and rammed into the ground at high speed, sustaining serious injuries. He is currently in the infirmary, and Poppy informs me that it is touch-and-go whether he will live. As your instructions permitted me, I have acted as I considered appropriate for a member of the staff of this school, I have not let my prejudice towards the boy's father personally influence me, I have provided exactly any potions which Poppy has required and refrained from any advice or comment regarding his treatment. I am not a qualified healer and it would be unprofessional of me to make any suggestions about his care."
"Severus: When I wrote…"
"Headmaster: Within the first week of term I set out in a written report my concerns regarding Professor Quirrell and his strange behaviour, and requesting permission to duel him, with the intent to either put him into the infirmary – where he would be out of commission and where Poppy could examine him – or to drive him out of the school. You were kind enough to respond, in writing, that I was to do nothing more than observe and report to you – and both of which actions must be undertaken in a manner unlikely to alarm Professor Quirrell. You gave me approximately the same response when I outlined my further concerns and observations in the wake of the 'troll incident' of Hallowe'en. I have followed your directions to the letter. Furthermore, when Minerva had her brainstorm and put Mr. Potter on her house quidditch team, I believe I also expressed my doubts – again, in writing – as to the wisdom of this action holding that there are numerous good reasons why first years do not normally play quidditch. I also have a copy of that memorandum stored in Gringotts, and of your response that everything would be perfectly fine – and that you trusted that a desire to see Slytherin retain the quidditch cup was not motivating me. This is your school. You are the headmaster. It is my position, if you give me explicit, clear instructions, to either follow those instructions, to the best of my ability and without question, or to resign. I found there was absolutely no clarity lacking in either your instructions regarding Professor Quirrell nor your assurances regarding Mr. Potter playing quidditch."
Albus hesitated a very long time, and then sighed at last.
"Very well, Severus, if that is the line of reasoning which you follow."
"Thank-you headmaster. Now, unless there is anything else, I would like to go and setup for Mr. Longbottom's weekly remedial potions class."
Aftermath of encounter in Forbidden Forest between first years on detention and the unicorn killer, spring term, 1992
"I'm curious. Aren't you going to say something to me about tonight, Severus?"
"Why should I, headmaster? Messieurs Weasley and Potter are both Gryffindors, and thus Minerva's concern, not mine, and you've already made clear your position on non-interference with Professor Quirrell. Minerva caught Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter sneaking around after curfew one night I was taking one of Mr. Longbottom's remedial potions classes, and Minerva, for whatever reason she considered fit, assigned them detention with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest. Slytherin house has no interest in this matter, so long as you do not start sending my pupils off to chase unicorn-slaying madmen."
"That's very short-sighted of you, Severus. I feel the incident shows all the signs of involvement of the Dark Lord."
"No, headmaster, it's not taking any more of a stake in whatever game you're playing with him than you contractually compel me to take, in my capacity as a teacher at this school. I wouldn't care right now if You-Know-Who were killing a dozen unicorns a night and piling the corpses up outside Gryffindor Tower, so long as the Gryffindors didn't try to unreasonably claim it as an excuse for not handing essays in on time. If You-Know-Who announced himself tomorrow at my office in person with a house-elf marching band, I would inform him that I have retired from 'his business', and kindly request he please leave me to get on with making sure that the idiocies of adolescents trying to brew potions are kept in check. And I am reasonably sure that even You-Know-Who valued politically neutral, competent teachers more than masked killers prepared to go out and spy or terrorise and torture on his instructions. After all, even the next generation of pure-bloods have to learn how to brew a boil-cure potion from someone – and that was more of a sneer, by the way, at Mr. Draco Malfoy, than Mr. Longbottom. Mr. Longbottom, now that he is getting past his initial nervousness, is making far faster progress under personal tuition from me, than Draco ever did in my occasional visits to Malfoy Manor at his father's request. Mr. Longbottom, as with many who are also good at herbology, has a certain basic instinctive grasp for the art of potion-brewing."
"You didn't used to refer to Lord Voldemort as 'You-Know-Who', Severus."
"I didn't use to consider making sure that pupils who want to learn have a safe environment in which to do so, are well informed, and are relatively free of distractions my highest priority."
"I must confess, Severus, that ten years ago I thought that this was a phase which you would soon pass out of. Now I am starting to wonder if you've been acting this part for so long that you've forgotten how to play any other role?"
"Is there a criticism of my functions as a teacher at Hogwarts in there, headmaster? If so, could you please cut to the chase and explain how I have been failing as an educator?"
"I do not feel that you are failing as a teacher, Severus, but I fear that you are failing yourself, as a man, and the woman you once loved."
"With respect, headmaster, there is no 'I' in teacher, and I am reliably informed that I never loved Lily Evans, but merely had an unhealthy obsession with her. Unhealthy obsessions can be got over and, since you seem to want me to make 'I' statements, 'I' sincerely wish that I had got over her the sooner and never got involved in that blasted war."
Aftermath of attempt to steal the Philosopher's Stone, summer term, 1992
"Shall we go over this again, Severus?"
"Certainly, headmaster: Miss Granger came to see me earlier in the evening, because she believed that you had been lured out of the school by an unknown person so that said person could go after The Philosopher's Stone, which Miss Granger had reasoned that you were hiding in the school. She came to me because she was certain that I was the one teacher in the school who couldn't have tried to kill Mr. Potter back during the Slytherin-Gryffindor quidditch match, since I wasn't paying any attention to the pitch at all at the time, but moving through the stands towards you whilst Mr. Potter's broom was misbehaving. She informed me that Mr. Potter and Mr. Ronald Weasley were also informed of her research and suspicions, but that they didn't believe her and assumed that I was the malefactor on the grounds that I am the head of Slytherin and that I tell them off in potions class if they try to disrupt the lesson. She told me that Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley had tried to inform Minerva that someone was trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone – specifically me – but had been given a brush-off, so Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley decided to go after the stone for themselves – at which point Miss Granger concluded the sensible thing to do was to come to me. I accordingly at once sent a message to alert you, collected Filius, and set off to check what was going on. We found Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley in the first subsection, rendered unconscious by Pomona's special hybridised devil's snare. We summoned Poppy to remove the boys, and once she had arrived we proceeded further. We eventually caught up with Professor Quirrell at my contribution to the defences. He had read the riddle, and evidently deduced which bottle was 'supposed' to be the 'safe' one for going forward and drunk from that. Since that in fact contained the most lethal poison that I am capable of legally brewing and he apparently didn't have a bezoar tucked up his sleeve, he was quite dead when Filius and I got there. For the record, the potion for 'going back' was perfectly genuine, whilst the other bottles which supposedly contained 'nettle wine' or 'poison' all contained a draught of living death. My assumption was that by that point in your 'gauntlet', anyone who wanted to go forward would either have had the potion I brewed for you to get through the flames available, or be an adult upto no good at all, and consequently better off dead. Acting under a hunch from Filius, we inspected under Professor Quirrell's turban, and discovered the already rapidly decaying remains of a second face. Filius believes that it was an indication that Professor Quirrell was in fact the host of a very advanced form of possession by a malevolent entity, and that with his demise, the entity fled the school."
"You deliberately prepared a lethal poison and inserted it as what was supposed to be the 'safe' option for your contribution?" Albus frowned, severely.
"No headmaster, as I explained, I ensured that the 'go back' potion was genuine. The 'safe' option for anyone remotely sane confronted by the situation I had setup, but unwarned of it in advance, was clearly to retreat or to wait to be detected and collected by school staff."
"No, I mean you set up a situation where there was no 'safe'option immediately available for going forward?" Albus said.
"I thought, headmaster, that the idea was to ensure that there were no safe options available to go forward, by that point? I thought that the idea was to prevent anyone from getting their hands on Flamel's stone – if it is the genuine article he gave you – and that my contribution was the last line of defence? That was what you saw fit to inform me."
"Severus: a child could have ended up in that room."
"Headmaster: Mr. Potter and Mr. Ronald Weasley were the first pupils to bypass the cerberus in an entire year, and they were arrested in further progress by the devil's snare. I doubt that any underage pupil, unless they'd swigged a whole vial of felix felicis was going to get as far as my little fires-and-potions arrangement. Filius' puzzle alone, involving limited distance apparition – in the area you'd kindly permitted him to operate it in free of the usual Hogwarts apparition-blocking – would have seen to that."
"I see." Albus said at length.
"Unless there's anything else you'd like to question me on, headmaster, I'd like to take my leave. I'd like to get some preparation in before discussing his exam work with Mr. Longbottom. The boy actually confided something quite disturbing to me, the other day, Albus, and I have to say I hope that I hear very soon that Minerva is taking action regarding at least one of his relatives…"
Just something else I've been scribbling (figuratively speaking) in between work on Saint Potter background material.
Draco wasn't really involved in anything (other than the remembrall incident and attendant 'midnight duel') since after the first week or so of term he discovered that this particular Professor Snape wasn't going to do him any special favours just because he was a Slytherin or because he was his godfather, and keeping a low profile might therefore be a good idea.
Neville Longbottom had a remedial potions class in this universe the night that Harry and Ron sneaked off to smuggle Hagrid's dragon out, and consequently was not caught out of bounds, and involved in the subsequent Forbidden Forest detention.
In this universe, Filius Flitwick devised something fiendishly cunning, requiring apparition, instead of the canon keys and broomstick 'puzzle' as part of the 'gauntlet' protecting the Philosopher's Stone. Since witches and wizards at Hogwarts are not taught apparition until the sixth form, this was supposed to keep out any young witches and wizards 'exploring' who somehow blundered past the earlier 'defences'.
This story is, for now, a one-shot.
Update (November 3rd, 2013):
Correspondence with another fanfiction member has reminded me that the concept of Severus Snape at least trying to include a bottle of something nasty as what the 'puzzle riddle' of the potions and flames 'protection' would indicate as being otherwise, has been around for a while in fanfiction on this site. 'A Logic Puzzle' by 'ExploPyro' is at least one such earlier piece by another writer which uses the idea, and there may well have been others.