Beta Reader(s): reg_flint
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Summary: Severus believes he can't afford to care for anything but his task in memory of Lily.
Severus is woken by the owls tapping at his window. Always the same in the last week of August, Owls from the Deputy Headmistress with the list of new students, the results of the OWLs telling him who'd likely attend his NEWT class and a few out-off-the-order informations.
Dennison will be a week late. He has been visiting his mother's relatives in Haiti and they want him to stay for a family event on the 2nd of September. Minerva attached a lengthy explanation by his father saying how important it is not to forget about one's roots. Severus frowns. Surely the wedding of a second cousin twice removed is much more important than school. Then he remembers that the boy's great-grandmother is one of the most influential Mambos on the island. Not even Minerva wants to get on her wrong side.
A small heavily perfumed envelope from Mrs Poppins complaining that her daughter Mary has flunked her Potion OWL only because of nerves. Severus' mouth twitches as always when he meets with the utter ignorance about the Muggle world some purebloods display. With that name the girl wouldn't survive one day at a Muggle school. He tries to concentrate on the real issue. Miss Poppins is in his house and he won't be able to avoid tutoring her. He'd better prepare a barrel of Wit Sharpening Potion to help the girl to scrape an A in the repeated exam or maybe use the simple threat that she will have to drink her own brews hoping that will make her listen to his instructions at last.
Another of Dumbledore's postcards describing the beauties of Spain and telling how much he was looking forward to return to Britain. Severus throws it on the pile of other cards which have arrived in annoying regularity all over the summer.
The third owl carries the one letter he dreads. Expensive looking cheap parchment, on the back in exact calligraphy the sender's name:
Not for the first time Severus wondered why M.P.L.A.G. w.e.s.c. was still missing from the list. Most Pretentious Lazy Arrogant Git who ever stirred a cauldron!
''....if you could spare your old teacher an hour or two...always love to keep in touch with my favourite students...''
Severus sighs. Couldn't he pretend to be to busy? Having broken his leg? He resigns to the tiresome duty as he has done every year since he started teaching. Dumbledore has been adamant that he needs to keep in touch with the influential Slytherins. Slughorn always knows the latest rumours. This year he would take a stomach soothing potion to avoid the heartburn from overly sweet delicacies and exotic nibbles. He very much preferred Minerva's dust-dry scones and shortbread fingers.
Severus checks for the date of the invitation. Thursday, that leaves him two days to recover before reporting at Hogwarts.
It's just about three o'clock when Severus silently Apparates behind the village church and walks up the small lane to Slughorn's cottage. It is at the very end of the village like most wizards' houses, neatly hidden behind a green wooden fence and a well-cut hawthorn hedge, green shutters at the sides of the small windows, now open and inviting.
Severus remembers that he once dreamt of living in a house like that. He always remembers that dream when he pays his annual visit to Slughorn.
He imagines what it would have been like to come home to a place like that. Lily would have been moving around in the kitchen. He could smell apple pie and almonds from afar. Or maybe she would have been busy in the front garden, cutting withered roses from the arch over the entrance. She would have been waving at him and smiling. In the evening they would have been sitting in front of the fire discussing magic. She'd ask about his day at St Mungo's and he'd listen to her telling about her own work. He had never envisioned her waiting for him at Spinner's End. No matter how delusional he might have once been, he had always known that his own humble, plain terrace house wasn't the place for her. She belonged in a sunlit garden not in the dark and dusky alleys which were his home. His dream had been of sharing her warmth and light not dragging her into his own darkness.
Severus clears his mind from the idle fantasy. He had seen her standing at the front door of another cottage once. Cutting roses, smiling and waving at her husband who came up the lane whistling, but it had not been him. It was the only time he went to Godric's Hollow. She seemed happy. He always wanted her to be happy.
As he walks up the path to Slughorn's front door Severus closes the shutters over his heart and soul. Just another task in his service to Albus Dumbledore. He withstood the Dark Lord's Cruciatus Curses when he didn't deliver the information his master craved and he would withstand the more subtle but no less painful torture of Lily's memory.
The first hour was merely boring. Endless chatter about the latest achievements of Slughorn's most prestigious protégées mixed with inquiries about somebody's niece or nephew, child, grandchild or godchild of the Minister's terrier.
Gwenog Jones has been made team captain of the Holyhead Harpies. Nott donated a new department to the medical library at St Mungo's. Severus takes in this informations pretending not to care. Like their friend Lucius Nott was carefully building a reputation of benefactor of the Wizarding World. Slughorn praises the Death Eater enthusiastically and Severus felt amused by his amazing ability to still turn a blind eye on what should have been obvious. Nott had attended every Slug Club meeting during Severus' school days, always interested in the academic achievements of the young students and their plans for the future. Slughorn had been so pleased that he helped them along their way to positions in the Ministry and introduced them to other wizards of consequence.
Damocles Belby is at the last stages of testing his new potion. That would have been interesting, if Severus had not already heard all about it from Belby himself. He wasn't particularly keen on making life easier for werewolves, but the highly complex process which made the deadly poison of aconite turn only on the cells carrying the infection during the time of activity rather than paralysing all body functions and thereby killing the subject was ingenious. He was experimenting with a similar effect to create an antidote to one of the Dark Lord's favourite curses. Though working on completely different potions Damocles and Severus had shared their results over the last two years and both profited. More than once a combination or procedure which failed one helped the other.
Severus doesn't tell Slughorn about it of course. The times when he hoped to be acknowledged by his old teacher have long passed. In school Slughorn had always been more eager to praise Lily for her natural talent than Severus for his research and figuring out the details. It made her happy and Slughorn found the words Severus never dared to say. He had always been lost for words and stuttered trying to tell her how much he adored her.
Lily! It seems impossible not to think of her in Slughorn's presence. Severus tries in vain not to look at the collection of photographs. Right in front is a picture of her.
'To Sluggy with love. Lily ….Potter.'
A Cruciatus would be preferable.
The old professor has noticed Severus' eyes wander over to the shelf.
" Ah yes, Lily Evans. It's hard not to remember her. She always has a special place on my shelf and in my heart. She was the most talented witch I've ever taught and such a charming pretty girl. So lively and cheeky..."
"Remarkably talented for a Muggleborn," Severus states coldly. He enjoys Slughorn's painful expression. If he has to stab a sharp knife right through his heart, Severus wants to be the one who twists it on his own terms.
Slughorn is not ready to give up on his favourite subject yet.
"I wonder have you heard anything about her son? Albus keeps him away from the Wizarding World. It's such a pity that a boy with apparently much magical power grows up among Muggles."
"I'm not in the Headmaster's confidence about Harry.....Potter." Severus can't help pronouncing the name with a handsome dose of bitterness and pain.
"Potter, yes.... you and his father didn't get along very well. I can't believe that you will hold that against the boy. He's Lily's son and as far as I remember you have been quite friendly during your first years."
"Miss Evans and I shared an interest in your subject. It was only natural that we worked together in class. I've already mentioned she was a remarkably talented witch."
Slughorn hasn't been able to read Severus' expression since 3rd year and his skill in hiding his real thoughts has improved over the years.
Lily's son. Dumbledore said the boy has her emerald green eyes. Severus can't forget how they sparkled when she laughed. Slughorn would love to hear about the boy's eyes, but Severus isn't going to tell him. For a moment another dream flashes through his mind. Maybe the boy looks like Lily and has inherited nothing from his father. Severus might get a second chance.
Emerald green eyes sparkling with curiosity when he would teach him magic, taking in every tale, every word, like Lily's eyes sparkled during the first years of their friendship. He'd teach the boy, Harry, everything he needs to protect himself. Lily would have wanted him to do that. Dumbledore has been right this was a reason to live for.
Severus' apparent indifference finally manages to discourage Slughorn. He offers a sherry to lighten the atmosphere. Severus declines.
"Not taking a drink from a potion master?" Slughorn jokes lamely.
"I trust you not to tamper with a drink you offer to a colleague. I simply don't drink much alcohol. Don't drink and Disapparate!"
Severus smirks at the confused look from Slughorn. He's probably never heard the Muggle slogan.
"I hope you're not going to leave right away, Severus. I always enjoy your scarce visits. It was such a pity that Albus couldn't spare you at Easter. He's just your employer; he doesn't own you."
Slughorn sniggers reminiscently. "I know, I know he's always been like that. You forgive an old man's sentimentality, don't you? So few of you are left. A teacher should not live to bury his students."
Slughorn has stood up and gently caresses the photographs on the shelf. So many are lost, dead or in Azkaban. Severus doesn't pity those who ended up in Azkaban. They deserved it.
One whose photograph is not on the shelf particularly. He's still alive. Dumbledore says that there are fates worse than death and Severus hopes that Black has met with every single one of them. His little brother waves at Severus from the picture of the 1976 Quidditch team. Severus smiles back at Regulus and feels a pang of guilt for doing so. The pointless death of that boy shouldn't bother him at all. Nothing should matter since Lily has died. Regulus has jerked his head and gazes at him. Then he smirks and twinkles.
"A teacher cares for his students, Severus. I thought you'd realized that now that you're teaching yourself. "
"I care that they learn their lessons." Severus replies too sharply. He reminds himself once more that he can't afford to care for anything but his task in memory of Lily.
Slughorn shakes his head and mutters something Severus can't understand, but it's surely something sentimental Severus doesn't want to understand.
Another hour passes with Slughorn's constant chatter and useless advice.
"Care for the students and you'll find they'll care for you."
As if Slughorn ever cared for a student who didn't make it to the front row of his shelf. Severus own photographic self is hiding in the darkest spot of the back row.
The sun enters the room in horizontal rays through the bay window overlooking the fields. Everything turns a pinkish orange. Time to take his leave at last.
"Don't make it last another twelve months till your next visit, Severus."
Severus promises to return as soon as his teaching schedule allows. 100 years will be much too soon, but he knows he will be back next year.
Apparating on the river bank Severus takes in the air of home. The maze of narrow streets leading to his house feels more safe and welcoming than the colourful well-kept gardens he passed on his way from Slughorn's cottage back to the churchyard.
Two day later back at Hogwarts Dumbledore listens to Severus' report. Slughorn has been relaxed which means there aren't any rumours, all quiet among the former Death Eaters. No news is good news.
"It looks like we're going to have another quiet year, Severus. I can hear the carriages arriving. Let's have a look."
Dumbledore opens the large window overlooking the driveway to the castle. One by one the students disembark and hurry through the oak door. Over at the lake the lanterns on the boats with the first years dance over the dark waters.
"Do you remember you first journey to Hogwarts, Severus?"
Severus ignores the question. Dumbledore doesn't really expect an answer.
How could he ever forget? Nothing could have prepared him to the amazing sight of the castle, all the windows alight. Ever since he had shown the first signs of magic when he was five, he had waited for this moment.
It didn't matter any more that Potter and Black had been on the same boat. Someone mentioned the Giant Squid and they emptied their pockets of all things edible to lure it to the boat. They splashed the water and pretended that they had seen a tentacle. One girl shrieked in fear, but Lily didn't.
Lily had pressed his hand knowing that he would always be there to protect her. On the very next morning she denied it. She said she hadn't been afraid at all. She was a brave Gryffindor.
Severus turns away from the window.
"They are waiting for us in the Great Hall, Headmaster."
"Oh yes, of course. The house elves have promised a special treat for dessert. I can't wait to try it."
The Sorting proceeds as usual. All first years are welcomed by their cheering house tables. One Slytherin boy seems to be a bit hesitant to sit down. He flinches at the pat on the back by the prefect. Homesick perhaps, there's always one who needs a few days to get used to not being with his mum.
Severus is glad when the welcome feast is over. He feels a bit dizzy after Dumbledore forced on him a second helping of the Scotch trifle. Tipsy Laird, he doesn't feel like a laird and tipsy is the understatement of a century. He wants to be in his own quarters, drink a Sobering Potion and wait for it to take effect in peace.
He feels dead tired, but there's no point in lying down before the room stops spinning. It might be worth doing a bit of research to find out why rooms always spin clockwise. Hopefully the elves only served their special treat to the teachers. He doesn't feel up to feeding potions to sick students.
The room finally stands still; Severus doesn't trust the feeling. If he can't sleep anyway, a patrol through the dungeons might be a good idea. On the first night of the school year one never knows what some students might do.
All is quiet in the narrow dungeon corridors and Severus slowly starts feeling better. One more side corridor leading to an unused dungeon to check and he would be able to return to his rooms. Able to go to bed at last.
Passing the broom cupboard on the left he hears noises. Rats? A lost cat? He opens the door of the cupboard. Crouched in the corner sits a small boy. He's clutching his knees and sobbing.
"They'll... say... I...am... stupid. Not clever enough.... to be in.... Ravenclaw!....My brothers will... mother.... disappointed."
Severus raises his wand to get a clear look at the boy. It's one of his, the boy who looked homesick after the Sorting.
The boy goes on and on with his whining. Severus feels the anger rise inside.
He pulls the boy to his feet.
"Stand straight!" he had said sharply. "You've been sorted into Slytherin! Show that you're worthy of it!"
The boy is shivering and staring at his teacher with wide open eyes too scared to sob.
Severus grabs him by the shoulder and leads him to his office.
"Sit!" Severus points to the chair in front of his desk. Noticing the boy is freezing he points to the fireplace and in a second a blazing fire fills the room with its warmth.
The boy looks at him trembling. Of course he is trembling. The brothers he mentioned have certainly told him about Professor Snape's nasty temper.
"What do you think you're doing, hiding in a broom cupboard long after curfew?"
The boy doesn't answer. He bites his lips. The tears have left grey streaks from the dusty cupboard on his cheeks. Severus gives him a handkerchief.
"You're Anthony Seymore, aren't you? You've been sorted into Slytherin today and obviously you don't like it."
The boy nods. "My family won't like it. They've been in Ravenclaw for generations, all of them. My brothers have warned me I wouldn't make it. They say I'm not clever enough. They always laugh at me. They've said I'd be in Hufflepuff, because Hufflepuff takes all." The sobbing starts again.
Severus knows the brothers Marc and Reginald Seymore, Ravenclaws by nature. They would be brilliant students, if they ever got their noses out off their books and bother to try a real spell which has some purpose.
"It seems they're not so clever judging your skills. You have been sorted into Slytherin. Believe me Slytherin doesn't take them all."
"That's...what... the Hat said. But.... "
"But you doubt the Hat's judgement? Haven't you listened to his song? Slytherin only chose the best for his House, those who are more than merely clever, those who knew how to make use of their brains."
The boy's eyes flash with hope for the first time. "How to make use of...? That's what I want.", he whispers.
Severus turns his head towards the book shelves. The boy should not see him smile. With a flick of his wand he summons an old leather-bound volume from the shelves. The book shows signs of wear. The protective leather cover is broken in some places. In the lower corner the greyhounds on the old family crest are barely recognisable. Severus hands brush gently over the faded golden letters. "Sons of the Serpent — Tales of Magic"
"You come from a Ravenclaw family. I suppose you know how to read. This book will tell you what it means to be a true Slytherin. At least the one who gave it to me said so." He hands the book over to the boy.
"Handle it with care and I want it back by the end of the week."
"Thank you, Sir." The boy stares at the book and then back at his Head of House. Severus doesn't need Legilimency to read his thoughts. Is this really the horribly strict professor his brothers have been ranting about?
"Do you think you'll find your way back to your dormitory on your own?"
"Yes, Sir." The boy clutches to book to his chest.
"Then off you go and if I ever find you crying in a broom cupboard after hours again, you'll have a reason to regret to be sorted in my House.", Severus snarls.
He doesn't need to say this twice. The boy jumps up and runs to the door.
"Good night, Professor."
"Good night, Mr Seymore."
Severus waits until the tapping sounds of little feet disappear and he hears a squeaky voice saying the password to the Common room.
Regulus had carried the book everywhere. He read it to Severus behind the curtains of his large four-poster on many nights. Children's stories, fairy tales, but Regulus believed in them. He would have liked that Severus lend the book to the Seymore boy.
"This is who we are, Severus. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise." Regulus had said when he gave him the book in summer 1976.