Severus Snape was doodling. It was not his usual staff meeting activity, preferring to count how many times he could tap his fingers against his trouser leg between Dumbledore's eye-twinkles. However, during this particular meeting, he needed more intensive distraction. There was no particular pattern to the pictures, ranging from chess pieces to herbs, all marching around the border of the meeting agenda.
"The students will arrive this evening, as usual," Dumbledore was saying. "Minerva will meet the first years as they come off the boats, and walk them into the Great Hall. After the Sorting Ceremony and the banquet, I'd like the Heads of House to stay at the head table for a few minutes. We'll need to have a discussion."
"About what?" Filius Flitwick was perched on a tall stool that made it easier for him to make eye contact with the other professors.
Severus rolled his eyes, but didn't look up from his drawing. It was a wonder, really, that any of these people became teachers. "I'd imagine," he said dryly, "that we will be discussing our new celebrity."
"He'll certainly be a Gryffindor," Minerva said confidently. "He's James and Lily's son."
"Oh no," Severus said, sarcasm dripping from his tongue. "Let us fight over him. Shall we arm wrestle?"
Albus cleared his throat. "We will know in a matter of hours. And when we do, we will be able to devise a plan for managing the attention he is sure to draw."
Snape pressed his lips together, striding out the door as soon as the meeting was dismissed. Crumpling his parchment into a ball, he tossed it into the bin next to his desk before sitting in his chair. He rubbed a hand over his face, the tossing and turning of the night before coming back in a rush. Harry Potter was coming to Hogwarts. Harry James Potter was coming to Hogwarts.
Severus opened the top drawer of his desk, and ran his finger along the seam at the back. Finding the groove, he removed the back panel and pulled out a stack of photographs, tied with a piece of twine. They were mostly Muggle pictures, some black and white from what seemed like a century before. But regardless of movement or color, his mind filled in the subject's dancing green eyes and barely-tamed red hair. Lily Evans. Lily Potter. Severus tucked the photographs away again.
"Her son lives," Albus had said to him, that Halloween night ten years before. "He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans's eyes, I am sure?"
Severus put his head in his hands, that moment flooding back, the haze of pain hanging heavy around him. That night. That awful night.
"You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily's son."
"He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone—
"The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does."
Severus felt like his lunch was about to make a reappearance. He'd visited. Once a year. Perhaps visited was the wrong word. He'd stalked the Dursley household once a year. Potter was a skinny clone of his father. With Lily's eyes. Lily's damn eyes.
It was all he could do to glance into the windows of the house in Surrey, assure that the boy was alive, and disappear for another year. He was uncomfortable with the emotions of those visits. The intense feelings they brought, pain over loss and fury over past feuds. A part of him wanted to snap up the child, the owner of the eyes. But it was the feeling of a young child concerning a friend's toy, surely. Certainly Severus Snape simply wanted to be in possession of Lily's eyes, not the boy himself. Not when those eyes were wrapped in a Potter-shaped package.
He could barely handle seeing the brat for a few minutes, and now, in a matter of hours, the boy would be living under the same roof. For the next seven years. Severus would see the younger wizard every day. And of course there was a chance that the boy would end up in Slytherin. Severus considered tearing out his hair at the thought. He considered paying off the Sorting Hat. What would a hat want? His mind swirled with ridiculous thoughts of button payments shoved through the rip in the Hat.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a knock at the door. "What?" He snapped, straightening.
"That's a fine way to answer the door," Minerva closed the door behind her. "Albus said you went to check on Harry last month?"
"I sent Hagrid," Severus said tightly. "There was a problem with his letter."
"But everything has been resolved?"
Severus frowned. "You'll get your new Lion, Minerva."
"That isn't what I was worried about," Minerva said, but was unable to hide her smile at the thought of Harry Potter in her House. "Did you notice the address on his letter?"
"Surrey is hardly cause for worry," Severus remarked, closing the inkbottle on his desk.
"I wasn't referring to Surrey," Minerva said impatiently. "Did you not see that his letter was meant to find him in a cupboard?"
Severus raised an eyebrow slightly. "Potter's family has provided him with shelter and food," he said calmly. "The form of that shelter is of no concern to me."
"You'd allow them to treat him poorly?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "The boy doesn't need to live in a palace," he said, irritated by the length of the conversation. "A rosy childhood is certainly not essential."
He busied himself with his roster of returning students, and Minerva took her cue to leave, shaking her head and muttering about men with clouded minds.
When the door closed behind her, Severus dropped his forehead into his hands again, the list of students forgotten. He knew about the cupboard. Of course he knew. He'd seen Petunia's oaf of a husband throw the boy into the small room under the stairs once on his yearly visit. He couldn't say that he enjoyed seeing Lily's eyes treated that way, but there were no other options. The blood wards were the strongest safeguards, short of adopting the child himself. Severus Snape was certainly not cut out to be a father, especially to mini-Potter.
The boy wasn't being starved or beaten, Severus rationalized. He'd promised to keep the brat alive, not to make sure that he was being tucked into bed at night. It wasn't the Potion Master's problem. Really.
Severus looked past Quirrell's turban— ridiculous accessory, in Snape's opinion, as the new professor droned on in his stuttering way. Potter was sitting at the Gryffindor table, not surprisingly, surrounded by a mess of Weasleys. The boy had piled his plate, a gesture that Severus chose to interpret as gluttony, despite the obvious physical evidence to the contrary.
Potter met his eyes, just for a moment. Snape wanted to look away, pretend that he wasn't looking at the child, but… it was those eyes again. He thought that there must be a support group for people who stare at near strangers because they have the eyes of dead loves.
Severus didn't have time to dwell on the thought for long, however, because when Potter met his eyes, a flash a pain flickered across the boy's face. The younger wizard looked away almost as quickly as he'd looked up at the head table. Did the boy recognize him? He was certain he'd never been seen, lurking around the Dursleys' house. But perhaps he'd appeared, in younger form, in pictures? Petunia was bound to have pictures of her sister, and Severus would have frequented those photographs.
"And, now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" Dumbledore was standing, his arms raised, as if preparing himself to conduct an orchestra.
Severus contemplated using the vial of cyanide that was sewn into the collar of his potions jacket. It was a hold over from the war, a last resort if he found himself in a position that would compromise his perilous mission. He gritted his teeth and looked at the Headmaster. Perhaps he should stop carrying the little bit of poison. With a job like this, the risk of using it in a moment of profound irritation was too great.
He adopted a bored posture, deciding that it was too early in the school year for suicide. In addition, his death might get in the way of his promise. He watched the new Gryffindor as the Great Hall erupted in the school song. The boy was clearly bewildered. Severus supposed that showed at least a bit of intelligence. He must have inherited it from his mother.
He shot a look at the Slytherin table as the students were dismissed, locking eyes with each of the prefects. He'd made his expectations clear before the meal began, but he had learned long ago not to leave the behavior of children to chance.
He was not disappointed. While the other houses rushed out in a flurry of chatter and disarray, the Slytherins filed out behind the prefects, in a quiet and orderly fashion. He flicked open his pocket watch. He had approximately twenty minutes until first year bed check. Standing, he started to step off the dais when Albus ruined his escape plans.
"A Gryffindor," the Headmaster said, smiling at Minerva's triumphant face.
"Shocking," Severus said dryly.
"Severus," Albus said, as if he hadn't spoken. "Have you heard any chatter in your House? Anything we should be concerned with?"
"Nothing but sunshine and light about the Golden Child, I assure you," Severus said, rolling his eyes. "I'll ensure that the truly homicidal students are kept away from Potter."
"It isn't a joke," Minerva frowned. "You know better than anyone—
"Yes, yes." Severus interrupted. "Perhaps you should secure your common room? I plan on doing just that." With that, he strode out of the Hall, making short work of the stairs to the dungeons.
"You cannot keep doing that," Severus said, glaring at Albus who was standing in the living room of his dungeon quarters.
"Doing what?" Dumbledore asked, tilting his head to the side in a way that reminded Severus of the school owls.
"Talking about protecting Potter and then looking at me. Our agreement was that no one would know. You promised to keep it a secret."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Keep what is best about you a secret? I did make that promise, I suppose." He looked at the younger wizard. "Now it's time for you to promise me something."
"You mean other than to risk life and limb to protect the boy you think will bring down the Dark Lord when he reemerges?"
Albus smiled fondly. "Get to know the boy, Severus. You may find that Harry has more Lily in him than James."
"Unlikely," Severus frowned.
"Get to know him," Albus said, a little more forcefully. "Consider it an order, if you must."
Severus made a growling noise in his throat, but didn't protest again. This job was getting worse by the moment.
"Could have been a bloody Healer," Severus muttered after closing the door behind his employer. He glanced at his watch again. Midnight. Time to check that upper years were in bed.
He stepped through the inner door that connected his living room with the Slytherin common room. There were still a few seventh years sitting around the fireplace, but that didn't concern him. Most students in their last year were of age, and it seemed silly to quarrel with adults over bedtimes.
The girls' rooms were silent, and the first year boys' dormitory was dark and quiet as well. However, when he approached the second years' room, he distinctly heard an older male voice.
"…think you can do whatever you want. Lights out for second years was two hours ago. Unless you want to visit Snape tonight, you'll settle down."
Severus waited, his arms folded over his chest, until the door opened and Marcus Flint emerged, closing it behind him. The younger wizard looked briefly startled by his Head of House's presence, but recovered quickly. "Hello, Professor."
"Trouble tonight, Mr. Flint?"
"No, sir. Just the second years thinking no one was watching them."
"Amazing that they don't understand minding charms," Severus said dryly. "I appreciate your vigilance, Mr. Flint. However, it's time for you to be in bed yourself. I'll handle any other issues tonight."
"Yes, sir." Flint nodded and went off to the fifth year dormitory with a yawn.
Severus waited a few moments outside the second year door to ensure that Flint's tirade had had its desired effect, then quickly finished his rounds. It was only quarter after twelve, he could sleep an hour or so, in the armchair in this quarters, before the inevitable homesick first year knocked on the door.
He returned to his rooms and settled into the armchair, pulling out the list of new Slytherins. He liked to play a game every year called "First to Crack". It wasn't complicated; he merely guessed which first year would be the first to have some kind of breakdown. He examined the roster. Bulstrode. Crabbe. Davis. He knew Crabbe's father from the Dark Lord's ranks, and he was certain that the boy didn't have the sense it took to be afraid of anything. Goyle was in that same boat. Greengrass. Malfoy.
Severus closed his eyes briefly. Draco would be the first to freak out, but there was no way the boy would come to him. Not a chance. Severus had known Draco since he was born, and a more arrogant toddler the world had never seen. He was certainly easily riled, but he'd never admit it.
Nott. Parkinson. Zabini.
Severus was going to go with Davis. The girl was a half-blood, which wasn't the easiest position in Slytherin House. Her father was a wizard, but not involved in any Dark circles that he knew of.
He knew Parkinson, she often frequented the Malfoy house. She was a simpering girl that hung all over Draco. Lucius had mentioned that the match would be lucrative, though Pansy was a bit loud for his son. Severus had suppressed an eye roll at that, knowing that "loud" in Lucius Malfoy's vernacular meant that the girl was opinionated and, perhaps, smarter than his son.
Severus was right. It was Davis who was inconsolable the first night. It was Jenkins, the sixth year female prefect, that knocked on his door at three o'clock in the morning.
"I'm sorry, sir," the girl apologized. "I swear, I've tried everything."
"It's alright, Miss Jenkins," Severus sighed, following her into the common room where the first year was huddled in an armchair by the fire. "Go on to bed, you have classes in a few hours."
Severus stood beside the fireplace and looked at the crying girl. Comforting children was not is strength. He was, however, excellent at dispensing calming draughts and sleeping potions and hoping that a few days of perspective would stop the emotional nonsense.
"I want to call my mum," Tracey said, around her tears.
"And startle your parents with a middle of the night firecall? Do you want them to think that you've been injured in a sleepwalking accident?"
The child looked up at him, clearly surprised that he wasn't tossing powder into the floo. Severus crossed his arms and looked at her. "It is perfectly natural to have reservations during the first few days. However, your parents have enough to worry about without thinking you are unhappy. So," he pulled two vials from his robe pocket. "This one will help you to calm down, and this one," he held up the white potion, "will help you sleep."
He dosed the girl and sent her back to bed. And people said parenting was hard.
Severus read roll during his first session of Gryffindor-Slytherin Potions class with a sense of doom. When he reached the name he'd been dreading, he paused.
"Ah, yes," he said softly, gathering himself. "Harry Potter. Our new… celebrity." He kept his eyes trained on the roster, afraid to look up at the boy with Lily's eyes. Perhaps in a moment, at the end of the list, he would be able to do it. Able to look at the boy.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he said when the roll was finished, dropping the list on his desk and clasping his hands behind his back. He looked at each student, narrowing his eyes slightly at Malfoy's arrogant smirk. He made a mental note to bring that child down a peg at the next private opportunity.
When his gaze landed on Potter, he paused. He did look like Lily. Not just in the eyes. His features were more delicate than his father's. Perhaps…
Severus shook himself. "Potter!" He barked. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
He watched with satisfaction the confusion that covered Potter's face. Severus hid the smirk, using the satisfaction to help him push down any feelings about the brat's resemblance to his mother. He sneered at the child.
"Tut, tut— fame clearly isn't everything."
He saw Potter's little girlfriend waving her hand around, but the high of showing up Potter in front of everyone carried him into another question.
"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
The girl was still waving her hand. Severus saw Draco badly covering his snickers behind his hand.
"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
"I don't know," the Potter brat said quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?"
Severus felt fury surge through his chest. "Sit down," he snapped at the annoying, frizzy-haired Gryffindor. "A point will be taken from Gryffindor for you cheek, Potter." He split the class into pairs, all the time feeling a mix of irritation and vindication. The boy was exactly like his father, no matter what his eyes looked like. The same belief that he could just skate through life.
After narrowly saving the entire class from being attacked by Longbottom's calamitous potion, he rounded on Potter. "Why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's another point you've lost for Gryffindor."
The look on Potter's face was extremely satisfying.
Get to know the boy, Severus.
Get to know the boy, Severus.
Snape woke in a cold sweat from a nightmare involving countless Lily figures speaking in Dumbledore's voice. Over and over. Demanding that he get to know her son.
"Well, you're dead," he said aloud, staring at the ceiling. "You don't get a vote."
But I killed you, he thought, unable to say that bit. It's my fault. Everything is.
He continued to stare at nothing for several moments, his hands balled into fists.
You could make it right.
That voice was all Lily, and it came into his head as clear as if she stood beside him. He sat up, looking around, feeling foolish for doing so.
Get to know the boy, Severus.