All Save the Good
The owl winged its way into the Great Hall, casting a black shadow. The students were hooting and catcalling over their various packages, no one had noticed that he had received a message, Snape thought. But when he looked up from the roll of parchment, he saw Draco watching him. The message was from Lucius. It was a Malfoy owl.
Snape slipped the parchment into an inner pocket of his robes without glancing at the contents. To his far right, McGonagall was tucking into a large helping of sausages, and looked to be absorbed by her meal. Snape's eyes flicked to Harry Potter. The boy was exclaiming over something that one of the school owls had dropped in Hermione's lap. Occupied.
He almost jumped when a raspy voice in his ear said, "Secret messages, Severus?"
"Hardly secret." His smile was so brief it might have been an irritated twitch.
Professor Moody sat back in his chair. His grizzled face was so criss-crossed over with scars that it looked as though not a single inch of skin was unblemished. A large chunk was missing from his nose. And in place of his right eye was the magical eyeball that had given him the nickname of Mad-Eye Moody. It was round and bright blue; and it moved ceaselessly, rolling this way and that. Now it swivelled so that it was fixed on Snape. Both his eyes were.
"I'm watching you. Very carefully."
Snape said, "Constant vigilance."
Moody favoured him with a long look. Then his magical eye suddenly rolled back into his head, following a flash of movement from one of the Hufflepuff student's owls that had swooped behind him. False alarm.
The Malfoy owl had taken wing and was soaring up and out of the hall.
"It is an opportunity, of a kind."
"Is it." Snape's voice snapped with disbelief. Dumbledore had paused too long and too pensively after the word opportunity.
"I'm afraid you will have to discover what kind for yourself."
The moment he had managed to escape the Great Hall, Snape had stepped into a handy alcove, passed his eyes over Lucius's message, then pocketed it again. After his last class, he had immediately made for Dumbledore's office. It had not occurred to him to speak about this matter with anyone else. The students were nonentities, and the members of staff were variously beneath his contempt (Sprout, Hagrid) or intolerable (Moody). Snape had silently passed Lucius's letter to Dumbledore.
"This year--" Snape began, then frowned.
"This may be the year that I ask it of you," said Dumbledore. "We don't know who placed Harry Potter's name in the Goblet of Fire. We only know that it was someone at this school."
"It could have been Draco Malfoy." Snape's tone indicated that he did not think Draco was responsible, merely that he was morally capable.
"This was not the work of a child," said Dumbledore, "as you well know. And I believe you rather misjudge young Mr. Malfoy if you think he would have entered Harry's name, and not his own."
"I don't like having Potter in my class," said Snape.
"He's going to grow into something," agreed Dumbledore.
Snape slept alone.
In the murky light, he began making preparations for bed. He took off his teaching robes and hung them on the peg by the door. His room was a silent retreat from the odorous potions in his office and the memories in the halls. It was deep in the dungeons, remote and solitary.
Snape caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he shrugged into a voluminous nightshirt of blue and white striped flannel. His hair was dead black, a lank shock that fell to his shoulders, framing a beakish, suspicious nose and dark eyes displeased with the world. Under the flannel, the Dark Mark crawled on his arm. He despised Mad-Eye for his vigilance just as he despised the Gryffindor students for their bumbling innocence and their star Seeker. Snape was bitter, at home with Slytherins because they were all touched by darkness in one form or another: vanity, avarice, cunning, ambition. He understood Slytherins and they understood him.
He threw back the blankets and slid in to bed, the sheets almost damp with the overriding cold.
Night time meant solitude and thoughts kept at a frown's distance, a long wait for sleep.
"There is no room for error when creating antidotes," Snape said. "Fail to follow instructions and you will find your poison victim experiencing a series of rather unfortunate side effects, the least of which, I can assure you, is death. I would like you to imagine, as you mix your antidotes, that you yourself have just been poisoned. To encourage this mindset, there will be," Snape lingered over the word, "a test." He snapped shut the leather bound book in front of him with a sound that rang like a lid falling closed on a tomb. The faces of the students turned white as the threat sank in. In the eyes of one or two of the Slytherins a light flickered.
"Dismissed, all of you. Mr. Malfoy, you will see me after class."
"You don't think he's really going to make us drink poison, do you?" Ron Weasley was saying in horrified tones to Seamus.
"Scared, Weasley?" Draco Malfoy was gathering his parchments together, he spoke as Ron passed his desk.
Ron stared at him like he'd gone mad. "Of drinking a deadly poison in a Potions exam? I should blooming well think so. Who wouldn't be?"
"I'm not. Are you, Pansy?"
"Why should I be scared?" said Pansy. "I'm not a failure like Weasley."
Draco smirked at this remark. "I think you'd better be careful that someone doesn't slip a wrong ingredient into your antidote, Weasley."
"If you so much as--" began Ron, furiously.
"Ten points from Gryffindor if you even think about it, Mr. Weasley." Snape spoke in a cold, unhurried voice. Ron struggled with his fury and then stalked out, which was satisfactory. This was the heart of the Dungeons, and Slytherins were a devious and biased fraternity, as inclined to favour their own as the other houses were to deride and despise them. Snape's brief glance up at the childish power play confirmed that all was as it should be.
Draco approached Snape's desk, his books tucked casually under one arm. The sound of students' chatter could still be heard from the hallway, but it was growing more distant as the fourth years made their way to their next class. The empty Potions classroom was a dimly lit collection of desks and mysteriously bubbling beakers.
"It was my father's idea," said Draco, before Snape had said a word.
"He mentioned the Dark Arts," said Snape.
"He meant Defence Against the Dark Arts," said Draco.
Snape studied the boy for a long moment. Opportunity. As a first year student, Draco had been spoiled, petty and juvenile. Dumbledore might have changed him, worked on him away from the influence of his father. But Dumbledore had never stepped in. Now, at fifteen, Draco's petty streak was maturing into true unpleasantness, while his arrogance, once a fragile construction, had bone-deep foundations buttressed by his Slytherin peers.
Opportunity. Hogwarts was a magical fortress, and it housed children, the children of Death Eaters. Opportunity. But Dumbledore didn't think like that.
"Six p.m. sharp," Snape said finally. "Bring your Defence Against the Dark Arts textbook, a notebook, a quill and your wand. Do not, under any circumstances, be late. I am not in the habit of wasting my time on extra tuition. If you are anything less than an exemplary student, I will terminate your instruction immediately and report your failure to your father."
Snape returned his attention to his papers. After a while, and without looking up, he said, "Why are you still here?"
"Doesn't this make you wonder?" said Draco.
"Wonder what?" Sharply. Snape's gaze snapped up, but Draco's face was unreadable.
"Who's watching who."
Karkaroff caught him on one of the ever-changing staircases, caught him by the arm, his fingers gripping tightly just above Snape's wrist. Snape stopped, looked down at Karkaroff's hand, then looked back up, into Karkaroff's face. Karkaroff's expression wavered in response, but Karkaroff only gripped him more urgently.
"Was it you?"
Snape did not answer. He could not, at first, fathom the question.
"Was it you who--the Goblet--"
"Fool," hissed Snape. "Let go of my arm."
"If it wasn't you, then there is another one of us," said Karkaroff, "here."
Above them, the staircases clanged loudly, reforming into a new pattern. Snape saw it for the first time; Karkaroff was afraid. He had released Snape's arm as though it burned.
"What do you know about it?" Snape said.
"I dream of snakes. I wake up and I can still see them, crawling before my eyes. My arm, it shows. It must be soon, and don't you see, these people will protect the boy. They'll protect each other. No one will bother to protect us."
"The loyal will be protected." He heard the coldness in his own voice. Karkaroff had been scrabbling for reassurance, for an ally; his face changed when he realized that Snape might not be one. He took a step back, his laugh thin.
"The loyal went to Azkaban. Because of us. I know you--"
"The boy--may have submitted his own name," Snape said quickly, to cut him off. He had said as much after the champions had been chosen. Karkaroff had spluttered and pointed fingers at Dumbledore, Harry, even Moody. All of it posturing. Karkaroff had evidently drawn the same conclusion that Dumbledore had. Soon.
"Do you--" Foolish hope in Karkaroff's face. "Do you really think so?"
No. He did not. Although it was plausible, the image of Harry Potter walking up to the Goblet; the Age Line and all of Dumbledore's spells parting for him, just falling away and letting him pass, innocent and unknowing, then flowing back into place after he had gone, like the waves of an obedient sea.
"Take comfort, Igor. If something is beginning here, we will be the first to know."
"No. Not here. Are you mad? I don't think you understand where you are. You once gave the Ministry a list of names. Let me give you one in return," said Snape. "Travers, Goyle, Crabbe, Rookwood, Malfoy--"
"They are hardly--they're imprisoned, or a long way from here."
Snape hissed, "They are students at this school."
The knock came at the same moment Snape's mantle clock drew in a breath to announce the hour. "Six," it said shortly, opening its eyes for a second, then closing them again. Earlier, Snape had lit the candles in his office with a curt spell and they gave off a warm light. Snape swung the door open on Draco.
Perfect punctuality: a Slytherin trait sorely lacking in Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors. Draco wore his Hogwarts uniform without the black over-robe, which was slung over the arm that held his books. His blond hair was neatly trimmed and his shirt freshly pressed.
"Come in," said Snape. Draco, eyes widening, followed Snape into the room. He could not disguise his childish curiousity about the inside of Snape's office, which was rarely seen by Slytherins under sixth year, and which, from glimpses and wild rumours, had developed a formidable reputation amongst the students.
"Have a seat. Do not interfere with any of the potions," Snape said, forestalling Draco, who was peering with interest at one of the concoctions by the door. "That one in particular will cause you to grow feathers. The other dissolves bone." Hurriedly, Draco stepped back.
Watching Draco as he sat, careful not to touch anything, it was difficult to think of him as dangerous. He was a boy. A student, and Snape felt towards him merely satisfaction with his cunning, his aptitude for potions and his venomous animosity towards Harry Potter.
But he was Lucius's heir, and that made him--suspect. Slytherin had always stood for cunning. It had stood for ruthlessness, and for ambition. There had been a time when it had stood for no more than that, before Slytherin had become inextricably linked to the Snake Lord, the parseltongue, who had worked on the house that attracted wizards with a thirst for greatness, and made it darker and more dangerous than ever before.
Now, any Slytherin might be a Death Eater, or the child of one, and Slytherin cunning meant that they could smile and smile and carry the Dark Mark on their arm, and get away with anything.
"Open your book to page twelve," said Snape.
"This is going to be just--a lesson from the book?"
"What were you expecting?" Snape asked.
Draco opened his mouth, then closed it again, evidently thinking better of a reply. After a short silence, he opened his book to the relevant page.
"The Cruciatus Curse," Draco read the bold curly lettering at the top of the page, then looked back up in surprise at Snape.
"I understand that you have been studying the Unforgivable Curses with Professor Moody."
"That's right. But--"
"What have you learned about that one?"
A simple question, but there was something Snape couldn't keep out of his tone. Draco's face changed as he caught it, then his expression wiped itself clean.
"I haven't learned how to cast it, if that's what you mean."
Draco gazed back at him. "No."
"Did Professor Moody recommend any countermeasures?"
Draco's delivery was bland. Snape felt the twitch of an expression but controlled it.
"Cruciatus has no counter curse," said Draco.
"Cruciatus has no specific counter curse, but there are a number of countermeasures. We'll start with this one."
Snape paused, and gave Draco a cold look. Draco, who had studied under Snape for four years, knew enough to hurriedly pull out a quill.
"The Perseverance Potion." Snape waited until Draco's quill was poised.
As Snape continued, Draco took extensive notes, writing swiftly in an elegant hand. Other prejudices aside, purebloods did tend to have better handwriting than their mudblood counterparts, Snape thought. Around them, several of Snape's slow preparation potions, including the two by the door, bubbled quietly over flames, and twice during the hour Snape stood to add a pinch of select ingredients to one or the other of them. Draco, growing involved in the lesson, began to ask a number of questions.
"The pain," said Draco after the countermeasures had been listed and discussed at length, "is it bad enough to drive someone mad?"
"How long does that take?"
"An hour. Sometimes more." Snape said, "I once saw someone walk away after a day of the Cruciatus Curse, but they were never--quite--the same again. They--" He broke off.
"Who was it?" Draco asked, enthralled.
Snape looked at Draco for a long moment.
"That is the kind of question I will not answer, and that you will refrain from asking," he said, slow emphasis on each word.
"Why--was it you?" Draco asked.
"Careful, Mr. Malfoy," Snape said.
"Have you ever used it?" said Draco.
The Cruciatus Curse was one of the three Unforgivable Curses; the use of it on a human being was punishable by a lifetime in Azkaban. Snape studied Draco's face.
"Why would you ask that?"
"I want to know what it feels like."
"To cast?" Draco had at last disturbed him. Looking at the boy's rapt expression, Snape felt a dull certainty settle in his soul.
Opportunity, Dumbledore had said. You will have to discover what kind for yourself.
The flickering candle light reflected off the planes of Draco's face, turning his skin and pale hair to gold. Snape said, "Unpleasant. Tiring. It's said to be difficult to sustain over a long period of time."
Draco looked faintly disappointed when Snape didn't continue.
"Now I have a question for you," Snape said.
"Do you think that those who will fight against He Who Must Not Be Named--like those in your own year, Potter, or that incompetent, Longbottom--are likely to use the Cruciatus Curse?"
For the first time, Draco looked genuinely reflective. After a long moment, he said, "Not very."
"No," said Snape. "So listen carefully to what I am about to say, as it is the most certain truth regarding that curse that you will ever hear. If you join the Death Eaters--" Draco's breath caught. "--you will find that the people most likely to use Cruciatus against you are other Death Eaters, and of course," and here Snape leaned forward, and spoke in a harsh whisper, and even the flickering candles seemed to lean in to hear him, dimming a little. "Voldemort."
Harry rounded the corner at a breakneck speed and slammed into Snape's chest. "Ooof!" said Harry, his books scattering over the stone floor, and then, "Sorry," as he began to pick them up, and then, looking up, he turned pale. "Professor Snape!"
"Potter," said Snape, his lip curling. While Draco had an air of knowing about him, Harry, about whom events were closing inexorably, always looked like he had no idea. Each time he saw him, Snape was forced to remind himself, this is the Boy Who Lived.
"I'm sorry Professor, I didn't know you were--"
"I have no desire to stand here and listen to you tell me what you don't know, Potter. I don't have the time. Let's hope you do know how to mix a passable antidote. You will be tested this Friday." Snape stepped past him, and went on his way.
The school was buzzing with talk of the Triwizard Tournament, although Triwizard was technically a misnomer now that someone had slipped the name Harry Potter into the Goblet of Fire. Snape felt with cold certainty that Harry was going to win the Tournament, and from the calm way that Dumbledore's eyes rested on Harry, the Headmaster thought so too.
"It would be a simple matter to bar him from participating," Snape had said.
"Severus, you are not suggesting that Hogwarts breaks the rules of the Triwizard," said Dumbledore. It was calm, affable and not a question.
"He could forfeit without breaking a single rule," said Snape.
"I don't think young Harry is the kind to simply forfeit," said Dumbledore with a small smile. "Though you're welcome to try and convince him."
Snape had walked out of Dumbledore's office at that, not for the first time.
He had no influence over Harry Potter, and the idea of trying to convince him of something--anything--was sourly impossible. Snape had once thought Dumbledore's calm was the same as impartiality, a kind of fairness in which he had implicitly believed until the day that Dumbledore had said, "There's no need for expulsion," and Snape had walked out of his office for the first time. Dumbledore's lack of action was frequently momentous: as some things were stopped, some things were allowed to happen.
"My father says Mudbloods should be driven out of the school," said Draco. "It's disgusting the way they're allowed to take classes with the rest of us." He was serving himself a generous helping of treacle pudding. His voice carried.
Dumbledore was strolling the aisles between the tables. Snape saw him pause, smiling, to pat Terry Boot's shoulder, and stroll on.
Snape sat beside Bagman. He had reasoned that since Bagman was the commentator, he would have no need to converse. Instead, he was subjected to a series of significant nudges punctuating Bagman's every word. "Oooh, Cedric's sure to lose points there!" Nudge. "Lord, I thought she had it!" Nudge. "And here comes Mr. Krum!" An elbow right to the ribs; Snape ground his teeth.
The Triwizard Tournament was more than a spectacle, it was a showcase of the training that a wizard could receive at Hogwarts, Beaubaxtons and Durmstrang, and Cedric, Fleur and Victor were, according to the Goblet, the best of the new wizards. The crowd screamed and thundered its approval as first the Swedish Short-Snout, then the Welsh Green, then the Chinese Fireball were outsmarted and the golden eggs snatched from their nests.
Snape hadn't come here to see them.
The Hungarian Horntail was lashing her black tail slowly, her gleaming yellow eyes alert to any danger as she crouched over her eggs. The screams of the crowd reached a fever pitch when Harry walked onto the field.
Snape watched, an unwilling guardian; on a long ago night he had tramped, cold and determined, from his rooms at Hogwarts out into the grounds, the candlelight in the windows of the castle fading behind him, the Marauders sharp in his mind. The Whomping Willow had stilled when he prodded the knot with a long stick, just as Sirius had said it would, and the black gap in the roots had beckoned him forward and down, into the depths under the tree.
He had felt satisfaction as he had ducked into the tunnel. He had thought, I've got him.
Then he had heard a sound behind him, and turned.
He remembered the confusion of James's shouted words and the panic of what followed; the sickening moment when he hit the ground, his hands braced in the wet black dirt. He had looked over at James and known, a cold and bitter knowledge: James Potter had just saved his life.
He had carried that with him through the war, through the peace that had followed, eleven years that were too easy and good to be truly restful. It was part of him when he stepped into the classroom, when he looked out over the Slytherin table in the Great Hall. It was there in the set of his shoulders and the slight downturn of his mouth. He had carried the sense of obligation with him for so long--long past James's death--for arrogant, invincible James had died at Voldemort's hand just like everyone else.
Harry swooped in fantastic circles on the Firebolt, loop the loops that drew gasps and awed murmurs from the crowd. He had the same surety as James, the same lift to his chin and arrogance in his flying. Snape watched him with his hands clenched in silent fury at his sides. He hated remembering. He thought he had wiped the debt clean in Potter's first year when he had saved the wretch from falling off his cursed broom. But he hadn't.
It would always be like this between himself and James's son.
The cries of the crowd reached a crescendo as Harry flew in under the swipe of the Horntail's tail. He snatched the golden egg and bolted back into the sky. Bagman was screaming in the stands next to him, "Look at that! Will you look at that! Our youngest champion is the quickest to get his egg!"
A thin sheen of sweat covered Snape's face. Professor McGonagall, Professor Moody and Hagrid were hurrying out into the enclosure to congratulate Harry, their faces beaming. Shaken, Snape turned his back on the tournament and took the long walk back to the Hogwarts buildings. He did not see the crowd as he passed them. He did not see much of anything. He was only truly beginning to emerge from the past when he returned to his office for the evening. Reality returned as he opened the door and strode in.
For a long time, he just stood there.
Broken glass covered the floor. The extraordinarily shaped glass beakers that he used to mix potions had been smashed, every one. Chairs were overturned. Books lay open with their spines broken and their pages torn out. Papers were everywhere. His notes had been methodically shredded. The cabinets at the far end of the room had been thrown open, their contents strewn over the floor. A thousand ingredients wasted, ruined.
On the table was a piece of unblemished parchment, on which was written a single word.
"Alastor," he growled, a savage sound.
He became aware of a presence, someone who had picked their way through the wreckage and was now standing beside him, a student, and he turned, eyes flashing, to curse them with detention for the rest of their lives.
It was Draco, his eyes wide, his books tucked under his arm. He had arrived for his lesson. He was perfectly on time.
As Draco gazed at the ruin that had been Snape's office, a familiar expression began to form on his face. Snape recognized it from the days when he had studied with Lucius. And though Lucius had grown far too subtle to show his intentions on his face, the echo of this particular expression still lingered occasionally in Lucius's eyes.
Snape said, in a cold voice, "Mr. Malfoy, I expect you to be a model student in the presence of Professor Moody."
Draco turned to face him, incredulous, then mutinous, and he wasn't sly enough to hide all of it yet. Snape could see the instinct for retribution in him, the desire to strike blow for blow, no one does this to Slytherin and gets away with it. House pride. The one thing Slytherin had in common with Gryffindor.
But he was his father's son, a clever, clever boy, and he swallowed it down, too clever to risk the kind of trouble that might mean trouble with his father.
He said, "Yes, Professor."
Their first mutual encounter with Moody had come at the beginning of the year, when Moody had dragged Draco into Snape's Potions classroom, demanding that he be punished for throwing a curse at Potter. "This creature is a lily-livered coward," Moody had said, all but shaking Draco by the scruff of the neck. "He threw a curse at the boy from behind."
After learning that in return Moody had transfigured Draco into a ferret and bounced him across the hallway, Snape had answered coldly that he felt adequate punishment had been meted out already.
"Professor Dumbledore will hear about this," growled Moody. "He--"
"Professor Dumbledore might wonder whether it is not more cowardly for an Auror to attack a boy than it is for a student to throw a harmless hex at a peer." Snape had spoken in a dangerous tone. "This is out of your jurisdiction, Professor Moody. You will leave the boy with me."
"The moment you slip up you will be in my jurisdiction, Professor Snape. Remember that," Moody had spat, spinning on his good leg and walking out, leaving Snape alone with Draco.
"A ferret," said Snape, tapping one long finger on the parchment in front of him.
Draco's cheeks were brilliant red, his hair spilling about his face, gaze pinned to the floor.
"I presume you've learned a lesson from this, Mr. Malfoy."
"Not to attack from behind, Professor." The taste of humiliation was sour in Draco's mouth.
"Not to get caught by an Auror," said Snape, and Draco's eyes had flown to his face.
"I'm not a coward," said Draco.
"You have yet to prove that to anybody," Snape had said, dismissing him, curtly.
In their fourth lesson, remembering Moody and the look of curdling hatred in Draco's eyes, Snape said, "Today I'm going to teach you something rather difficult, and not altogether a defense against a Dark Art. Nevertheless. How to recover from a transfiguration spell."
Draco flushed a little. But he nodded, lifting his chin.
They practiced until Draco was himself again, his eyes shining with triumph despite his exhaustion. "Well done," said Snape briefly, looking down at him.
In the silence that followed, Snape realized that the boy, usually in no shortage of words, was searching for something to say.
Finally, in a strange tone, "Thank you."
Something had changed, and Snape understood that it was a change he had wrought, though what, and how, eluded him.
The winter grew colder. They took to studying before the fireplace in Snape's office. Draco generally sat on the rug right in front of the fire, while Snape occupied one of the large armchairs. Draco relaxed into the lessons, at ease in his surroundings, a shirt button undone, his grey and green Slytherin tie slung around his neck. The disgruntled clock would open one eye and announce, "Seven," and then, "Eight," and sometimes, crossly, "Nine."
Draco wasn't a nice boy. When most people relaxed, they opened up. When Draco relaxed, he tested boundaries.
"You don't like my father, do you," Draco said, watching Snape with a heavy gaze.
"I don't like a great many people. Don't take it personally."
"You like me the best in your Potions class. Weasley says that's because you're a worm and my father owns you. Is that why?"
"Why, no. You scrape by on your own talents, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles, and leaned his weight back on his hands. "I told Weasley that the only thing his father owns is a cheap house and a cheaper woman. I felt somewhat called upon to defend my favourite teacher."
"Thank you." Snape's salutary tone was drier than dust.
"I don't like a great many people, either," Draco said, from somewhere under his pale lashes, much later, as he was rising to go.
From the High Table, Snape looked out at the faces before him, two long rows of Slytherin boys and girls. At the far end of the table, the first years squabbled and squealed in a minor ruckus. Beside them, the second years were fractionally calmer, and the third years calmer still. By seventh year, their faces had smoothed over and they no longer gave their thoughts away. He remembered being one of them, eating across the table from Rookwood and Lucius, watching carefully while he chewed, listening, keeping to himself. A dangerous time in a dangerous house. There wasn't a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin. That much was certainly true.
Who was watching who? In Slytherin they were all watching. They watched for advantages, for opportunity. Even Crabbe and Goyle, stone eyed and surly, watched for sleights against Slytherin and then held grudges, mean, unimaginative and implacable.
It had begun like this. Then the tables in the great hall had grown empty, slowly and inexorably, one disappearance after another. Snape, studying Draco, couldn't shake the feeling that Lucius was playing with all of them, and doing it skillfully and from afar.
The sun set and the great hall emptied. Alone in his rooms much later, Snape scribbled a note in his sharp, concise handwriting and let one of the school owls fly it out into the night. There was a chill in the air, and the night sky was dark blue and soft with the glimmer of stars.
His letter was succinct, feeling Lucius out, trying to glean information by asking if Lucius had any further instructions as to Draco's tuition.
The answer arrived two days later.
I'm satisfied with your progress.
A single line, and that was all.
Potions was an exact science. It required patience and concentration and, generally, attracted Ravenclaws. Unlike Divination, there was no room for embellishment. Unlike Transfiguration, there was no room for flair. It was not, as many at first thought, a pinch of this, a dash of that. Instructions had to be followed to the letter, or chaos was the result.
First and second years were hopeless. At that age, the mind was wont to wander, the hand to slip. That morning, the first year Potions class descended into disorder as a simple potion to cure boils melted its cauldron while a forgetfulness potion exploded in the back row.
Third and fourth years were only a little better.
The Slytherin and Gryffindor fourth years were having a test, and Harry Potter was elsewhere, upstairs on Triwizard business affording the class some short-lived peace and quiet. Snape watched over steepled fingers as Hermione Granger diced her knotgrass economically then added three pinches at exact four-second intervals to her cauldron, which bubbled pleasantly. Momentarily satisfied, Hermione looked around at Ron, who was staring down at his own antidote. It had turned a disturbing colour.
"Ron, you can't drink THAT!" she said, in a horrified whisper. "The antidote's supposed to be clear, not orange."
"If you can call that orange," said Ron, eyeing his cauldron warily.
"It's because you've forgotten the knotgrass. Here, take some of mine."
As Hermione busied herself, Draco leaned over and calmly dropped a single drop of bundimun secretion into her cauldron. Snape noted Draco's choice of bundimun in particular, because it not only rendered the antidote ineffective, it meant that Draco had done next week's reading.
A moment or two later, Hermione's cauldron let out a low moan. Pansy, who was sitting nearby, gave a little scream and leapt back. Murmurs erupted across the class.
"Uh, maybe I won't use your knotgrass thanks," said Ron, pushing the stuff back along the bench towards Hermione.
"It's not the knotgrass. It's--someone's put bundimun in my antidote!" said Hermione who, if she was true to form, had probably done all the reading for the semester.
"Oh, did the Mudblood mix up her ingredients?" drawled Draco. As he spoke, he placed the vial of bundimun in a position of prominence on his desk.
"Malfoy, why you--" began Ron.
"What is all this commotion about?" said Snape, stalking over.
"He's SABOTAGED Hermione's antidote!" Ron.
"Look at the bundimun, it's right there on his desk!" Hermione.
"I don't know what they're talking about." Draco.
"Be quiet, all of you," Snape snapped. "This is a test, and I will take twenty points from the next person who speaks out of turn."
Silence abruptly descended, except for the cauldron.
Snape surveyed the three students. Ron and Hermione were both on their feet, their faces furious. Draco lounged in his seat, Crabbe on one side of him and Goyle on the other. The vial of bundimun secretion stood unmistakably on his desk, while a faultless concoction bubbled in his cauldron.
"Mr Malfoy, you will explain."
"I haven't done anything. Granger's trying to blame me for her rotten potion," said Draco promptly.
"Ooof," added Ron, who had opened his mouth to protest only to be elbowed in the stomach by Hermione, who was more concerned with the twenty points than her reputation.
"I see." Snape glanced down at Hermione's cauldron. "Miss Granger, you will redo your antidote from scratch, and apologize to Mr Malfoy for your accusations. Your behaviour is a disgrace," he said, continuing with relish, "I might add that you would have known better than to use bundimun, had you bothered to do next week's reading." He tapped the side of her cauldron with his wand and said, "Silencio!" The moaning ceased.
Hermione turned bright red and opened her mouth to object.
"Yes?" said Snape, silkily.
"I HAVE done the reading, Malfoy put the bundimun in when I wasn't looking!"
"Oh? And why, pray tell," said Snape, "weren't you looking?"
"I was helping Ron to--"
Abruptly, Hermione shut her mouth.
"Cheat?" said Draco helpfully, swinging his legs under the desk.
"Shut up Malfoy, you horrible little snitch!" shouted Ron.
"Twenty points," said Snape, with profound satisfaction, "from Gryffindor."
"I'll catch up with you later," Draco said to Crabbe and Goyle, as they left. With little more than fifteen minutes remaining in which to make a slow preparation antidote, Hermione had scraped in with at best no more than a passing grade. Draco had spent the rest of the class with his two oversized friends, sniggering. Now that the classroom was finally empty, Draco wound his way through the benches to Snape's desk.
"You wanted to speak to me?" he said to Snape.
"I'm afraid you won't catch up with them later," said Snape, putting down his quill. "You have a prior engagement."
"Detention," said Snape.
It took a long, slow moment, the smooth lines of his face hardening, the pale eyes flickering, and even then.
"What for?" said Draco.
Snape gazed at him.
"You don't believe Granger's story," said Draco.
Snape gazed at him.
"That bundimun on my desk wasn't even mine," said Draco. "It was Goyle's."
"I've been hoping you'd score higher than Miss Granger on a Potions test. But the sabotage, while effective, disrupted my class." Snape snapped his correction book shut, clicking the ornate metal lock.
"You think I can't beat her without cheating," said Draco.
"I think competing on your own merits would certainly take some courage."
"I can beat a Mudblood at Potions," said Draco. His fingernails, biting hard into the spine of his Potions text, were white.
"Since you must cheat," said Snape calmly, ignoring him, "Next time, do it better. You're a Slytherin."
Snape sat with his arms crossed, prepared to watch unmoved while Harry blundered his way through his second challenge. Cedric and Fleur were looking around at the lake and the spectators. Viktor Krum looked like he was preparing to scowl this challenge into submission. Next to the seventh year students, Harry Potter was small and insignificant, nothing more than a child.
The wind, which was up, ruffled his hair and exposed his lightening-bolt scar.
Snape's posture changed when he saw Harry pull a handful of greyish-green stuff from his pocket and start munching on it. His arms uncrossed and his eyes flashed. Beside him, Sprout perked up at the sight of a magical plant being used as a Triwizard tactic; there was usually little glamour attached to Herbology.
"Greyish, slimy in texture . . . intriguing," said Sprout. "What is it, I wonder?"
"It's Gillyweed," said Snape, through clenched teeth.
"Are you sure?" Sprout was squinting at the contestants near the lake.
"Very sure." Snape stood abruptly, his black robes swirling around his feet.
Gillyweed was a plant that, when consumed in the right quantities, enabled a person to breathe underwater for a limited time. It was the perfect way to survive the underwater challenge. But there was only one place to get Gillyweed within a hundred miles of Hogwarts, and that was from the locked supply cupboard in Snape's office.
"I want Harry Potter expelled," he told Dumbledore.
("He's a werewolf. He's a werewolf and he tried to--to--")
"My dear Severus, whatever for?" Dumbledore's brows lifted like the wings of a startled white bird.
("I'm aware of Remus's condition. He is in my care. This, I'm afraid, was a very poor joke that was played at the expense you both.")
"For breaking into my office. For stealing my supplies. For breaking every school rule in the book and more!" Snape was quivering with fury.
("A joke? We'll see how funny he thinks it is after he's been expelled!")
"There's no need for expulsion," said Dumbledore.
"Because he's Harry Potter." Snape's lips twisted as he answered his own question.
Dumbledore said, "Sometimes, you find that it is the most unexpected people who have what it takes to be a hero."
He half expected it to be Karkaroff. But the door opened on an unmistakable blond head of hair.
"Mr Malfoy," said Snape, staring down at him. "What is it?"
"I couldn't sleep," Draco said. It was the tone more than anything else that made Snape stand aside to let him in. "I know it's late, I . . . couldn't . . . " Draco visibly took a hold of himself, cut the words off. Suspicion wormed its way into Snape's mind. Then he looked down and saw that Draco's hands were trembling slightly, and that his nails were ragged and bitten.
"Some of us have to be up early," said Snape. "The final Triwizard challenge is tomorrow, or have you forgotten?" Draco let out a breath, it might have been a thin, surprised laugh. It was shaky.
"I haven't forgotten." Snape motioned to him to sit, and Draco did so, looking around, and the confirmation that he was here, in Snape's private rooms, seemed to make him even more nervous than before. It was strange to see someone with Lucius's features looking nervous. "I've known about the tournament for months, longer than the other students. My father told me after that Ministry woman disappeared."
Draco was naturally inclined to talk a great deal. With increased nerves it seemed that he would babble out any and every thought that crossed his mind.
"Wait here," said Snape shortly. He absented himself, returning with a cup of hot milk, which he felt frankly ridiculous preparing. It was innocent of any other ingredient except honey, but Draco gave it a suspicious look.
"I'm not in the habit of slipping potions to my students," said Snape, and Draco accepted the cup and took a single shallow sip before putting the cup down on the table.
After that he just sat looking tense and Snape waited for him to say whatever it was that he had to say.
"Have you ever killed someone?" Draco asked, looking up at him.
"Yes," said Snape, his stomach slowly turning over.
"I could do it if I had to," said Draco, "I think I--I'm not a coward. If it was--a duel or--I could do it."
"You think it takes courage to kill someone?" Snape said.
"Doesn't it?" Draco lifted his chin. "My father says it does."
"Well it must," said Snape, "if your father says so."
Draco held eye contact. Snape stared back at him coldly until Draco's gaze dropped. He tried to see more than the boy's grey eyes and the straight fall of his hair, but Draco was a child with Lucius's face.
"That isn't what you think, is it. Is it?" Draco's voice was uncharacteristically small.
"It's hardly like you to care what other people think," Snape opened his mouth to say, and then, realizing something, went very still. Because Lucius had never tried to do the right thing in anyone's eyes. Not his teacher's. Not his father's. Draco didn't notice Snape take pause; he was locked in his own world, blind to anything but his own dilemma.
In an emotionless voice, Snape said, "I'm not your father."
"What would you do," said Draco, "if you could save someone you hated? If you knew . . . something that . . . "
"Why would you save them," said Snape flatly, "if you hated them?" Out of obligation? Just to show that you could? Or to have something to hold over them, so that they'd join your cause and fight your war forever?
He knew Draco was talking about Harry: dark hair falling into a pair of green eyes that gave away every emotion, childishly. He was a child after all. He looked like James. Two boys who looked like their fathers. Draco, when he wasn't gazing up at Snape, was watching Harry Potter with unfailing hatred. Harry was the only one to receive Draco's open hostility. With everyone else, the boy simply played games.
"You said it takes more courage to . . . I could beat him. I know I could. I thought you . . . I'm not a coward. I want to beat him."
Snape's voice was ungiving. "If you're not a coward, why have you spoken to no one before now?"
When he said it, it was as though a shudder passed through Draco's body. The boy's eyes closed. He said, "There's no one I can trust." He opened them. Their eyes met.
"You can trust me," said Snape, and the toneless words felt so wrong on his lips that he realized he'd never said them before. He tried them out again, and found they fit better the second time; found, with distant surprise, that they could be something that fit him after all. "You can trust me."
"Could you pass me that cup of milk?" Draco said, in a strange, hollow voice.
Snape picked up the cup.
The boy moved fast. Snape had no warning, no time to think before Draco had seized his wrist, roughly pushing his sleeve up.
The cup shattered, spilling warm milk over the stone floor.
He felt the grip of Draco's white-knuckled hand, which held him fast, though Draco was shaking. He felt the shock of exposure. It had grown so dark over the last few months. You couldn't see that it was a tattoo on skin, you could only see the Mark. You looked at it, and it filled the world, snake and skull and bile rising in your throat because it had grown so black.
He heard Draco's thin, hysterical laughter. He saw it, as Draco backed blindly away from him. This was what Lucius had planned for. What he had wanted. This moment.
Snape had risen instinctively, but there was nothing he could do or say. His words were ashes. He felt his mouth thinning and turning down.
"You can tell my father," Draco was saying. "You can tell him, I won't fail him. Tell him I'd never--Tell him I--"
"I'm not going to tell your father anything," Snape said to the walls of his empty room, long after Draco had gone.
It was cold and even Dumbledore's eyes, usually crinkly with the promise of a smile and a lemon sherbet, were a little tight around the edges. The stands around the maze were five-tiered but remarkably few people had turned out to watch what was the main event. Banners proclaiming, "Cedric for Hogwarts!" and "Krum for Durmstrang!" looked drained of colour and everyone appeared a little withdrawn. Snape's unforgiving gaze, passing over the crowd, caught on one unmistakable figure. Draco's face was pale. His white-blond hair stood out over the grey and black of his Hogwarts uniform.
Those who had braved the weather were eager for spectacle, but in the end there was nothing to do but watch the dark-leafed walls of the overgrown maze.
Harry and Cedric entered the maze first, then Victor and then Fleur. Snape watched Draco as the sparks went up in reverse order, first for Fleur and then for Victor, turning the sky seven shades of red and pink, an erupting firework. He watched Draco until the first of the screams echoed from the bottom of the stands, and the two boys reappeared on the edge of the maze.
Harry Potter's white face, and beside Harry, Cedric's body, slack in death, his eyes thrown open and his mouth surprised. The curse was written in every line of him. The Triwizard Cup rolled in the grass, and Harry was clutching Dumbledore's wrist desperately.
"He's back," Harry whispered. "He's back. Voldemort."
The sky opened up in the confusion that followed, rain chasing at the spectators as they were hustled away by school officials on Dumbledore's ringing order. Snape felt the lurch in his stomach, that name on those lips, and in the blur of colours and the tangle of people he lost his hold on the present for a moment; he heard the rain whipping the Whomping Willow on that long ago night, and the one racing to save him. "Snape, we have to get out of here. Snape!"
He looked around for Draco, thought he'd lost him, only to have the boy appear in front of him. Snape found his hand clasping Draco's shoulder hard. The grounds were in chaos around them; he was being pushed at from all sides. But his grip on Draco only tightened. The rain was turning the silver of Draco's Slytherin tie to a dark steely grey, the same colour as the clouds overhead. He wanted to shake Draco, to get answers out of him, to demand something, anything, but Draco was the first to speak, almost shouting the words lest the wind whip them away. Snape's skin was cold, the rain nothing but cold, soaking him, dead and cold and Draco's words falling like stone.
Draco was saying, "We did it!" His pointed face was drained of colour, his hair was in rain-tendrils against his face.
"Severus!" Snape turned blindly towards Dumbledore's voice, and lost his hold on Draco. Dumbledore was striding towards him. His robes and wizarding hat were rain-soaked, but he was radiating a sense of power that saved his appearance from ridicule, and his voice was sure with command. "Severus, come with me. We must see to Harry Potter."