Disclaimer: The author claims no intellectual property rights of any kind to characters, plot points, or other ideas appearing in this work which originated in the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling. The author receives no financial benefit from the use of these ideas and has written this work for personal amusement only.
Author's Note: Some ideas when they appear are just too interesting to ignore, hence this story. For those who may be wondering where the next chapter of "Political Expediency" is, I haven't forgotten about it and it's at least half written, but it's giving me a great deal of trouble and I have no idea when it will be finished; hopefully soon, but I make no promises.
Summary: One-shot. In times of war, desperate measures must often be taken – "for the greater good", some would say. But all things have side effects, as Minerva McGonagall discovered once all was said and done. No pairings; deliberate reading against authorial intent (as always).
"If taken in excess, it causes giddiness, recklessness, and dangerous overconfidence"
– Horace Slughorn, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, page 187
"So how did it feel to finally hang me, Minerva?" the image of Severus Snape quipped from its portrait frame, as the newly instated Headmistress stepped back from affixing it to the wall. "I suspect you've been wanting to do it for years."
"That – that is the first thing you say to me? After everything –"
"Lost your appreciation for gallows humour?" He said it so dryly she nearly smiled, before realising she was speaking to her dead colleague's image. This office is like a tomb. A tomb that hounds you in the voices of the dead. How could they all stand it?
"N-no, Severus," she choked, feeling tears come to her eyes. "It's just we – we all misjudged you for so long and –"
"Spare me the hysterics, Minerva; it's not like you."
"Not like me? I hardly know what is like me any more, to be honest!" she burst out exasperatedly, Scottish brogue thickening. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed, I know you have. Ever since Potter arrived at this school I've been puzzled by so many of my own actions –"
The portrait visibly appeared to sigh, though it produced no sound. "That isn't your fault, Minerva."
"If you try to blame it on my age, young man, I swear I'll –"
"That's not what I meant. I'm serious, it isn't your fault."
"So it's true, then. Albus really did –" she cut herself off, then glanced upward at another portrait. "Professor Black."
"Yes, Headmistress?" Phineas replied in his sarcastic nasal way. "What could I possibly do for you?"
"Find Professor Dumbledore and get him back into his frame as soon as possible. I don't care if you have to drag him by the beard, find him and bring him here," she said forcefully. Phineas smirked, nodded, and sidled out of his frame; Minerva sighed. She suspected he'd take that all too literally.
"How did you find out?"
"I should have noticed sooner, I daresay. But it was one of the house-elves. After I became Headmistress, poor Batty came and asked me what I wanted him to do with 'Master Harry's special potion' now that he wouldn't be returning to the school. I made him show it to me and – Severus, it looked almost exactly like Felix Felicis…"
"It was, Minerva. Almost exactly Felix Felicis. After the Dark Lord fell the first time, when I was still new to the faculty, Albus set me what I thought was an academic exercise – he wanted me to modify the potion for a low-grade, long-lasting effect, and minimise the side-effects as much as possible. I only partially succeeded, as it turns out," he said bitterly. "I had no idea he intended to use it. Do you know when I first realised what he had done?"
"When you caught Potter breaking school rules as a first year, and decided to reward him for it with a new broomstick – out of your own pocket, I might add – and a place on the Quidditch team."
"I must have had a good reason at the time –"
"I'm sure you thought you did; that's how the potion works. It has to work with something that's already there, it won't cause completely impossible things to happen, but it has no qualms about twisting our personalities and making us do things we'd never have thought we would. That was the moment when I knew. You would never have flouted the rules during my schooldays – applied them in a biased manner perhaps, yes, but it was always the letter of the law with you."
"Now is not the time to air such tired grievances, Severus," she replied tiredly. "We have a greater violation to discuss."
"Yes, indeed we do. I confronted Albus about it shortly after, and do you know what he said to me? 'It's for the greater good, Severus. Don't you want the boy to live?'" Snape's portrait shook its head slowly. "The worst part was that I couldn't argue with him; it did make sense. And I remember thinking, with James Potter's genetics nobody would ever notice the difference in his personality."
"I was wrong. Believe me, I noticed. I noticed the world warping itself around him more and more as the years went by, uncanny coincidence after uncanny coincidence, and I noticed the giddiness and reckless overconfidence building up. Nobody ever believed me when I said he was arrogant, possibly moreso than his father – but you see it now, don't you?"
"I saw him use the Cruciatus on Amycus Carrow without a shred of remorse, then look at me as if expecting approval. I stammered something about gallantry at him – I can't even blame the potion for that one, it was likely shock. Yes, I see it. You were right all along, Severus." The words barely even stuck in her throat.
"Was I, though?" he drawled slowly. "We'll never know what he would have been like without it. It may all have been the potion, if that is any comfort. At the age of twelve he ran headlong into single combat with a basilisk, and made it out alive by accidentally summoning a bird and a hat. That had to have been the potion's influence, and quite strong already – in the aftermath I was able to persuade Albus to reduce the dosage, but no more."
"Reduce the –"
"Even that was difficult; he was so elated to see that his plan was working. Even I had my doubts this past year – when I saw Potter nearly drown in a frozen lake going after Gryffindor's sword, I wondered if the beneficial effects had worn off, if there wasn't enough of the potion left in his system. But no," he said with a sneer, "it summoned the Weasley boy just in time to pull him out. And, wonder of wonders, neither of them suffered any hypothermia."
"What will happen to him now, Severus?"
"I have no idea. There is absolutely no precedent, and there was no way we could have tested for long-term effects. It shouldn't kill him; I was at least able to ensure that, I think. But he may experience severe withdrawal symptoms, and his personality may deteriorate further. Whatever you do, Minerva, see if you can keep him out of power."
"He will have to be told, Severus."
"Not by me, I'm afraid. He will not take that well, and I suffered through his tantrums enough while I was alive."
"I think it should fall to Albus. It would only be fair, after all. Speaking of which, where is he? How has Phineas not found him?"
"It's not my fault if you don't look up, McGonagall," Phineas sneered from above. "Your conversation was so interesting I didn't want to interrupt. Get back into your frame, Dumbledore, you're not escaping this one."
"Thank you, Phineas. Now, where were we… Albus, how could you?"
Postscript: And fade to black. Your imagination can take it from there. Wouldn't this explain so much?