Title: Servitude and Service
Character: Severus Snape
Beta Reader: My brother, R.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: A wizard may be forced, or he may volunteer. Severus discovers choice.
His anger saved Severus, in the end, and not only from the guilt and grief that smothered him when Dumbledore told him Lily was dead, murdered, despite all Severus's frantic efforts to save her from the fate he had unwittingly brought down on her. Dumbledore had not broken the news gently, nor had he tried to spare Severus the blame he knew he deserved. However, he said one thing that broke through Severus's despair: that Severus had put his faith in the wrong person.
Severus had certainly not trusted his original master to spare Lily, but he had believed in the power of the one he fled to, needing to avert, to protect, and had believed, too, in that new master's will to do so. Dumbledore had failed Severus as much as he had failed Lily, though he had said no word to acknowledge either failure.
Later that night, crouched in the corner of his sofa, arms huddled around his body and legs, head down, hair tangled, cheeks smeared with forgotten tears, Severus straightened suddenly. So that was how it was to be. Severus had sworn to do "Anything," and Dumbledore would not only demand actions Severus was revolted by, as he had done in even this short period of servitude, but he would expect Severus to take the blame for all failure.
Whatever Dumbledore had meant to do to keep Lily and her family safe, he had not been successful. Had Dumbledore been as uselessly trusting as he accused Severus of being? Who had the Potters trusted to hide them, if not Dumbledore? Their refuge had been Secret Kept; the Keeper must have betrayed them. If not Dumbledore, then surely one of Potter's friends. Was it the rat? The werewolf? Or Potter's aristocratic, unstable, death-dealing dog, Sirius Black, who had always been closest to him, always most trusted, and always most wilful?
So Severus was to be scapegoat for all of them. Blamed for everything. And expected to serve Dumbledore still, since Dumbledore believed the Dark Lord would return.
Very well. He had promised, and he kept his promises, unlike either master. Severus winced. He had already broken his word given to Lord Voldemort – who had most thoroughly broken the terms of their compact, long before Lily was ever threatened.
He would keep that promise: do anything to protect Lily's son, if only for her sake. Surely Dumbledore did not believe what he had said was generally believed by the wizarding world, that a child of fifteen months had destroyed the oppressor. No. It had to be something Lily had done, some great magic she had accessed in a mother's desperation. Maybe Severus could cling to the notion that he had done some small thing for Lily, in gaining the Dark Lord's promise to spare her: maybe that commitment had been magically effective, giving her the chance to save her son, if not herself.
Perhaps, also, to do his part in protecting Lily's son, he might regard that promise to Dumbledore as … flexible, allowing him to act on his own judgement if he saw the need. The primary purpose in giving his word was not to serve the old wizard absolutely, but to do one more thing for Lily: to save her son, should it need doing, to give her that last and greatest thing she had wanted.
Severus did not smile, but he was a little comforted. That Slytherin reasoning gave him some freedom; and he had already the strongest proof that Dumbledore was fallible, and could not be trusted to do what was best either for Lily or for her son. Young Harry Potter's protector had to be able to exercise free will beyond whatever Dumbledore might desire of him.
Severus needed the support of anger and dedication, not only to withstand his own feelings and conceal them from his colleagues, but to keep teaching, to make the Potions classroom a safe place despite the dunderheads who refused to learn there, and to train his Slytherins to good sense and self-protectiveness. He could no longer deceive himself that Lord Voldemort would protect them, either before or after he came into his own; nor that pureblood politics did them any favours, unless their families already had power and allies. The young Severus Snape was not the only halfblood who had been abandoned by his own house; he would make sure that that did not happen again, too.
Before November was well begun, Aurors came for him, as they came for everyone known to have associated with the Dark Lord, even arrogant and powerful wizards such as Lucius Malfoy.
His stay in Azkaban was not as stressful as it must have been for men like Malfoy or Rookwood. Severus was not naturally a happy man, to have joyful memories for Dementors to tear from him; he had not been bred to happiness, and of late had had nothing that could make him happy.
Aurors intent on information were more of a trial, but he was a better Occlumens than anyone they could call on, thanks to tutoring from Dumbledore as well as from his former lord. Neither had wished to share true secrets with the other. The Dark Lord had also trained him in resisting Veritaserum, before setting him to spy on Dumbledore, a skill Severus had kept to himself. Experience of his father's physical violence had taught him to bear that, and to resist it. His schoolfellows had reinforced the lesson; he could suffer it without seeming to resist. Vengeance was for when opportunity presented itself; he could wait. He might yet have opportunity, though that mattered little beside his greater duties.
Severus talked whenever someone hit or kicked or hexed him, if they asked questions; and though he said whatever seemed to be wanted at the time, it all bore some passing resemblance to the truth. Severus had needed little teaching in the art of lying by telling selected truths. Subtle evasion, rather than defiance, kept him more or less intact until he was brought before a Wizengamot hearing.
By then he was almost convinced that Dumbledore had thought better of having a continuing need for his services – one result the Dementors could claim, perhaps – so he was surprised when the old man immediately stepped forward to claim him as his own servant, rather than Voldemort's. It gave Severus pleasure to see so many of his judges wincing at the Headmaster's open use of the forbidden name. It gave him less pleasure to be remanded into his employer's custody, but he suspected that was the result of distrust of Dumbledore quite as much as of himself, even though Dumbledore was still the Wizengamot's head.
A true surprise was to be summoned to an interview with the assistant head of Magical Law Enforcement, Amelia Bones. The current head, Bartemius Crouch, had dismissed him (and Dumbledore) with some irritation, but had not seemed willing to challenge Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock. Dumbledore had calmly taken his rightful seat as head of the Wizengamot, from which he had stepped down to speak for Severus. Severus himself had been escorted out of the courtroom by one Auror (having been brought in by three). The fellow returned his wand to him and told him Madam Bones wished to speak with him. It had already seemed to him that the Wizengamot had been aware, before he was brought before them, of Dumbledore's intent; that summons, without further discussion, confirmed it.
Severus had had enough of interrogation, contempt, and violence, but he supposed a middle-aged witch was unlikely to do more to him than her and Crouch's subordinates had already done.
She proved to be far more courteous than any of his previous interrogators, and, he almost at once realised, far more subtle. Unlike them, or indeed Dumbledore or Voldemort, she made him an offer. He listened, face set to unreadability, then bluntly sought clarification. If plain speaking were to disturb her – but no. Nor did she take offence.
"I am not asking you to report to me on what Headmaster Dumbledore does. You are not likely to be in his confidence so deeply that you could share with me something I could not discover by other means." So she could be blunt too.
"I am more interested in what you can tell me of Death Eaters. Both past and future. Their master may be gone, but they remain. So do their ambitions, which have already split the wizarding world."
Severus pursed his lips, waiting for more. She gave it to him.
"Many of your former fellows have already appeared before the Wizengamot, but not all have been condemned. Lucius Malfoy, for example, pleaded Imperius, and was released."
Severus allowed one eyebrow to tilt in doubt.
"I don't believe him either, but he has influence, and money to back it. More, he has – friends in the Wizengamot. I am not in a position to oppose their verdict, any more than Mr Crouch could dispute their acceptance of the Headmaster's witness in your defence. So some who are committed to pureblood dominance, if not to their vanished lord, will remain active, and in time will no doubt become impudent again." Her voice was very dry.
"They will hear how I got off, and distrust me."
He was not rejecting her assumption that he could spy for her, but inviting her to agree a cover story.
"They could readily be convinced that you are as clever in your way as Malfoy, and escaped judgement by deceiving Dumbledore, without the aid of family, money, or position."
That was true. And thinking that, Lucius might well be annoyed that his own skill in wriggling out of a tight place had been surpassed. Lucius knew how useful Severus had been to the Dark Lord, however, and if his ambitions remained he would want that usefulness in his own service. Not so much as a spy, but as a maker of potions. None of the Dark Lord's followers exceeded his skill in that, young and relatively recently recruited though he was. Few of them, indeed, had brought specific skills to Voldemort's service, save people like Mulciber, with his obsessive study of the Imperius Curse, or Rookwood, the experienced Unspeakable.
"Yes," he said slowly. "I should certainly prefer them to believe I have not changed my allegiance. So I should need to keep my contact with you, my reporting, as private as possible."
"You to me, and me to you, with no intermediary," she agreed.
How astonishingly sensible of her. Perhaps he could work with her, not just placate her with as little information as possible. It would be helpful to Severus's aim of preventing the return of Voldemort, if a highly placed Ministry official was prepared to listen to him, and herself to watch the doings of Voldemort's followers.
"How should I get in touch with you, then, when I have something to report?"
Her suggestions had merit: some were ingenious; some he had never thought of. So he could learn from her as well as make use of her. All the better. She also enumerated for him the names of all Death Eaters so far arrested, interrogated, released or condemned, and in the latter case for what. It was more information than he might easily have gained from either Dumbledore or Lucius, and a hopeful sign that she would not keep him mewed up in the dark as Dumbledore had so often done. In response he contributed commentaries on each. He had certainly not known them all; some names were new to him.
They parted on an agreement that she would have an Auror summon him "to investigate further" his activities since becoming a Hogwarts professor. She assured him, dryly, that it would not surprise Dumbledore to discover that she wanted to examine their relationship in private rather than before the whole Wizengamot, most of whom could not hold their tongues to save their lives, let alone their world. Dumbledore might even be grateful for the avoidance of public embarrassment to himself, though she advised Severus not to rely on it. The Wizengamot might have set Dumbledore in authority over him, but Magical Law Enforcement reserved the right to make its own investigations, and Madam Bones had no hesitation in bringing this discreetly to his current master's notice.
"He is secretive, and slow to act; indeed, he keeps his secrets, and his allies, as close as goblins keep their gold. Few of the Wizengamot truly trust him, who are of his generation or mine; they have observed him too long. He is too powerful for them to be entirely happy with him, when he is so seldom open with them. I shall tell him that in questioning you myself I am attempting to ensure that he is not deceived by a clever young man who must depend on himself, or on a patron, for advancement. He will not believe me, but that doesn't matter. He may or may not tell you either of those things, of course."
She did not mention that she might tell Dumbledore far more than she was saying now to Severus. He was sure she would, and she would expect his understanding.
Severus thought that it would be interesting to see how much truth and partial truth Dumbledore chose to share with him. Dancing around truths himself with Dumbledore, and with Madam Bones in place of Lord Voldemort, would probably be far simpler than he was accustomed to. Interacting with the two of them, rather than simply with the Headmaster, might well give him more information, and means of testing its accuracy, than working with Dumbledore alone.
Madam Bones dismissed him with a dry warning against over-confidence. Severus blinked at her like a sleepy snake and acknowledged that her advice was a threat as much as meant for his good, or at least his efficacy. He did not try to pretend that he was meekly grateful for it; already she would know him better than to believe that.
Severus was disarmed when Lucius Malfoy offered him respect for his cunning manipulation of Dumbledore, and praised his forethought in setting the situation up, so that he could save himself if the disaster none of them had expected befell them.
Lucius said wryly that he had been fortunate in being tried, if that was the word, after his sister-in-law Bellatrix had already been condemned, all her delightful habits exposed to the horrified ears of the Wizengamot, and her wild behaviour to their eyes. In desperation, he admitted, he had claimed to have been Imperiused, only to be asked by Barty Crouch himself, "By the Death Eater Bellatrix Black Lestrange?"
Lucius had at once assumed a shamefaced air and admitted that the charge was true. Narcissa had helped by springing up to list all the other things her sister had done to hurt and shame them (though her emphasis had been on the threats Bellatrix had implied to their child, with her reiteration of her willingness to sacrifice any sons she might have to her lord's needs). Lucius had chimed in, apologising for his weakness, in his fears for his child and his wife. The Wizengamot had believed every word, he claimed.
Having heard Madam Bones on the subject, Severus was not sure how widespread that belief had been, but it had served to free Lucius.
Lucius had gone on to stress Severus's importance to Slytherin House, young though he was to be its head; he had, after all, heard Severus on the subject of the former head's indifference to the welfare and safety of his students, if they had no connections to impress, or skills to exploit. Severus remembered that Lucius and Narcissa, as well as Lily, had a son; he had little doubt that their devotion to Draco, at least, was real. Lucius's true purpose was soon plain: if Severus was to be head of Slytherin, he needed to be equipped to teach the children everything Slughorn had not – including, in the future, Draco Malfoy. Lucius was surprisingly tactful in his suggestion that Severus needed to learn pureblood ways and a noble house's manners, as well as their clear, pure speech, which he had successfully mastered even before Lucius himself had left Hogwarts.
Severus resigned himself to being coached in manners and in dress, and introduced to many of the pureblood codes his mother, abandoned by her family before she was twenty, had never fully learned or been able to teach him. Being sociable was not his style, and he was relieved to discover that neither Lucius nor Narcissa planned to try to force him into it. Instead, Lucius suggested, his custom of observing silently and commenting seldom but incisively would serve him well. With, perhaps, a little less sardonic humour than was his way, since that intimidated those who did not know him.
He dutifully went to school once more. It was true, after all, that the students of Slytherin House would need all the advantages that he could give them, in a world where they were suspect simply because that had been the Dark Lord's house. He even allowed Narcissa to refurbish his wardrobe, and to bully the Hogwarts house-elves into providing his quarters with furnishings appropriate to a head of house, where she did not contribute them herself.
It amused him to share these developments, and his reluctant acceptance of what was not, truly, charity, with Madam Bones, but he also said, seriously, "They are concerned for Slytherin children. For that, I'll take all the help anyone will give. Dumbledore will never do anything to aid any Slytherin in need."
Madam Bones nodded briskly. "You have more than one master – if Dumbledore is correct you may ultimately have three! – but you have chosen service to your house, even though teaching was wished on you by the Dark Lord and by Dumbledore, rather than being your own choice. I am not paying you, Mr Snape, and I respect your not asking me to do so; but I admire your dedication to your house. If ever you need my support there, ask for it, if you can do so without betraying yourself."
That pleased him far more than he might have expected. It was seldom, after all, that anyone praised him for anything, never mind thanked him, or even noticed what he did.
The Christmas holiday gave Severus the chance to think about the events of Halloween night and all he had learned since then, not only about the Potters' deaths, Lord Voldemort's disappearance, and Dumbledore's foreboding that this was temporary, but everyone else's reactions: what the wizarding world foolishly supposed, what the Death Eaters who remained free suspected, and what he had discovered about his own feelings and intentions.
He would always feel the guilt of having betrayed Lily, but he had become even more aware of how Dumbledore planned to exploit this. Severus was quite prepared to spy on the Death Eaters for him, and for Madam Bones, even if he kept his reports to them quite separate. He felt little guilt about betraying former friends, none of whom had supported him when he needed help, either at school or after. All of them had been as foolish as he, and most worse. It had been his ill luck that his folly had killed his friend; if they were fortunate they would not receive so sharp a lesson. If they were sensible, they would not attract Madam Bones's notice; and if they were not, it was better she should deal with them as they invited. If the Dark Lord were indeed to return, the fewer rabid followers he had, the better for the wizarding world, and for Lily's Harry.
He was ready to do whatever he had to, to protect Lily's son, though it seemed to him there might be nothing needed until the child was old enough for Hogwarts. By which time, he hoped, the boy would remind him wholly of Lily and not of his father James. Since both Dumbledore and The Daily Prophet told him that her son was now with her family in the Muggle world, he assumed Dr and Mrs Evans would raise him as successfully as they had raised Lily (if not, in his view, Petunia).
He had not intended to become a teacher, and certainly not a teacher of Potions. It was also ludicrous that he, not long past twenty, should have been made the head of Slytherin house, for want of any other Slytherin on staff to inherit the task from Slughorn. However, he would do both jobs to the best of his ability. His students should learn proper procedure, and responsibility for their own safety, despite the dangers of his classroom (even if he had to hector and terrify them into it). His Slytherins should learn to look after themselves and each other, even though he had to preserve his own ambiguous status while teaching them. Though his children would be in doubt about his loyalties, they should still be able to listen if he showed them the ways of common sense and self-interest and house loyalty.
It was depressing that the Headmaster had no interest in his plans to make Slytherin (as distinct from Potions classes) a safer and more protective environment, but Dumbledore didn't seem interested in interfering, either. He would take that, over the way Dumbledore had treated him when Sirius Black had nearly killed him.
When the students returned in January he would hold a house meeting, to start building the sense of trust in their house and each other that they needed. No; better to take them in separate groups, and speak to their understanding. He would start with the sixth and seventh years, who knew him already (for better or worse, mostly worse). They would lead the younger students, as Lucius and his year mates had led him (for better or worse, mostly worse). He would make it clear to them that his supervision would be closer and more critical than Slughorn's. Then he would call the middle years' students together, and last of all deal with the first and second years, who should be easiest, and should take most eagerly to the idea of mutual protection.
There was one more thing he had to do, reluctant though he was. Lily and her husband had been buried in the village where they had lived, and he knew from The Daily Prophet that a memorial had been erected there, kept invisible to Muggles. It had been much visited already. He had averted his eyes hastily from the photographs printed in the paper, unwilling to look on a likeness of either of them, but if he visited both grave and memorial he might be able to put some, at least, of the guilt behind him. Acknowledge it, yes, but not let it handicap him in his duties. Though the grief would remain with him, and it was right that it should, he needed to live for the future, not for the past: to do whatever he might need to, for young Harry Potter, and to teach his Slytherins to be more mindful than he had been, which should help to protect them as well as Lily's boy.
It was snowing when he went to Godric's Hollow on New Year's Day – a deliberate choice, starting his life over with this pilgrimage. He did not look at the statue, but at once searched for the graves. One grave, it turned out, with a single headstone, in white marble, with the simplest possible inscription. He felt a moment's resentment that even Lily's maiden name was omitted; was that because she was Muggleborn, and her origins therefore were of no interest?
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Yes, but death had had his say first, hadn't he? It was no consolation, though Severus did wonder if Dumbledore had chosen this epitaph, wishing to hint that one day Voldemort would be dust indeed, just as Lily and her husband were becoming dust. It was good this was a wizarding graveyard; the Evanses would not be able to bring young Harry here, and show him this gloomy piece of mysticism. It did nothing to cheer him, nor would it help a child, whether he remembered anything of his parents or not.
They were so young when they died, barely twenty-one. He felt centuries older. But he had always been older than Lily, not just by the three weeks or so that separated their birthdates. He had had his life to make him old, as she had never been, and now never would be. Nor would James Potter learn anything more, whether for better or for worse. Severus was still free to learn, as well as to live. Free, or bound, as Lily's servant, if not truly Dumbledore's.
He didn't weep, here, as he had feared he might, as he had done so often in the first days after her death. Eventually, conscious of the chill even through cloak and warming charms, he walked away, to brave their memorial in the little square.
It was pedestrian, he thought, though a reasonable likeness of both of them; done from photographs, perhaps. Potter had a heroic look he thought inappropriate, given that he had died without his wand in his hand, even. He had left it, so Dumbledore said, in the upstairs bedroom when he went to the door, when Voldemort burst through. Folly. Potter's last folly. Lily hadn't had her wand in hand either, though at least it had been in her child's bedroom, the same room as she when she died. Left on a dresser, rather than tucked into her waistband or a pocket, if not in her hand, as it should have been, in their ever-present danger.
What had Potter been thinking, hiding in a Secret Kept house from the wizard who wanted to destroy his son? He had kept the arrogance of a protected childhood, never anticipating harm, despite the defiance he and his wife had more than once offered the Dark Lord. Had it been another game to him? A holiday, free of care? Another honeymoon, but with his child as well as his wife? And so he had died helpless, unable to protect wife or child, victim of his own careless assurance as much as of Voldemort's malice. Severus didn't try to tell himself that James Potter might, if armed with his wand, have been able to defy Voldemort yet again, any more than Lily could have done. They had been young and powerful, but utterly lacking in the sort of cunning needed to stay alive.
So. He would remember that lesson. Young Harry Potter's protector would not be found wandless or unready.
As he stood looking up at them, so unprepared for their fate, he felt at last something besides resentment for James Potter. Not even he deserved to die like that, for all his arrogance, bullying, and lies. He had died better, or at least more quickly and easily, than some of Voldemort's victims, but he had not earned his death, any more than Lily had. And Lily, if his guess was right, had achieved something with her own death. Luckier than her husband, luckier than all those Muggles, all those Aurors, all those followers of Dumbledore in their silly play-acting Order, where the only ones who did any good were mostly Aurors, trained, experienced, and with enough imagination to be prepared for a real resistance.
No one deserved to die like that.
Severus found, to his intense surprise, that he did care about that. How strange, after all those years of fighting neglect and indifference, that he should care about anyone else at all besides himself, and Lily, and now her son.
He should remember that, too.