Title: A Separate Joy
Beta Reader(s): sionna_raven
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Note: Title is modified from the novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. No copy write infringement is intended. I love this book, and my fic reminded me of it.
Summary: Severus Snape has one true joy in his life. It’s not Lily Evans; it’s potions.
Severus Snape has always had a love of learning. Anything of academic study can peak his interest, and he spends many a night engaged in reading over a variety of topics. Transfiguration is fascinating — how the molecules and atoms can be altered into any substance, animate or inanimate. Arithmancy is straight-forward and logical in dealing with the magical properties of numerical values, and can be exciting when combined with the unusual definitions of ancient runes. Charms are free-form works of art but still contain underlying rules of magical theory. Defence requires intense concentration, a vast repertoire of curses and counter-curses, strategical warfare, and psychological estimation of opponents. Even History appeals to his thirst for knowledge. The only class that is a waste of time is Divination — a bunch of fantasy ideas mixed with melodrama and open to interpretation, and the predictions are always proven false.
But above them all, potion brewing is the science with which he falls in love. It is different than any other activity Severus could mention, from the chopping, cataloguing, and measuring of the ingredients to the careful mixing inside a hot cauldron. It's meticulous and precise, everything uniformly laid out and integrated at the right moments. It's quiet and focused, the bubbling noises inducing a soothing meditative workspace. It's repetitive and complex, each twist a beautiful dance. Both the hands-on physical approach and the systematic sets of equations appeal to his whole being — body, mind and spirit. And it can be done in solitude.
Solitude feels good. It allows him to relax, let down his guard, take a much-needed deep breath. Solitude means he doesn't have to watch his every step, every movement, every impulse from prying eyes, the fear of discovery melting away on the wisps of pungent aromas. He doesn't have to hide every emotion behind clouds of Occlumency in his mind. And potion brewing doesn't ask for emotions anyway — another quality in its favour.
He finds the intellectual research quite stimulating. It teases the puzzle-solving pleasure zones in his brain, delving him into a trance as he works through chemical reactions, flooding his system with adrenaline as he senses closure onto a solution, granting him euphoria when he finds it. With potions, he is happy. He is content.
Potion teaching, on the other hand, is a nightmare that he despises. Children whisper behind his back about the stupidest teenage topics, including jibes at his own person, unaware of the seriousness of their tasks. Potions ingredients are splashed everywhere, and although he can assign detentions for scrubbing up the worst of the muck, it's the knowledge that it happens at all that frustrates him. Cauldrons explode, and asinine essays assault his brain. He asks himself why. Why do I get up every morning? Why do I put up with the children every day? Why must I seek out the Headmaster every night? And every day he looks at the snake-and-skull tattoo on his arm to remind himself of his purpose. To stop him. To stop him from coming back. To stop him from murdering. To stop him from taking over. And to protect the boy.
Potter is here now, in his classroom, an arrogant copy of his father, a celebrity worship-monger if he ever saw one. He had hoped with all his heart that the child would be more like his mother, but just as Potter's outward appearance bore more resemblance to James than Lily, so did his inner personality, talents and skills. Mischievous and rule-breaking, James had been rubbish at potions, and this, too, the boy seems to have inherited, another smack in the face to Severus. It makes his blood boil, and he must fight the urge to simply hex the boy.
Flexing his arm under the mark, he hides his bitterness in lost house points and detentions, the joy of potions ruined for another day.
For all the utter chaos that his life endures, Severus rejoices in the controlled preciseness of potion brewing. Each mathematical step is mapped, recorded, checked and double-checked. Each component is carefully selected and consistently cut, chopped, diced, or crushed. Each recipe calls for exactly so many turns of the stirring rod, and each tick of the clock produces the same results, if all the steps have been followed correctly. There is no need to factor in human concerns, flitting emotions, or psychotic ideas.
Some of which do hold a place in potions research, though, and this is where his two worlds blend so well, and he is in his element. It is important for him to stretch the boundaries of what he knows and to strive ever forward toward new goals. Developing new philtres affords him the chance to produce something positive for the betterment of society, the possibility of garnishing recognition for his involvement in said benefit, the luxury of gaining power for himself, and the expansion of his horizons into new, exciting territory. The need for fresh ideas is the only reason he would wish to collaborate, but fortunately correspondence with other potioneers works to keep the mental creativity flowing just as well. Taking a detailed look at problems in the world and examining how potions could improve those situations also give lots of food for thought.
Just such a conundrum is placed before him when he is advised that a certain werewolf will be teaching at Hogwarts soon — much to his horror — and a better version of Wolfsbane potion than the one Damocles invented is required. He spends all summer testing new concoctions and is at least able to bring greater clarity of conscious to the partaker's mind. Not that he has any misgivings Lupin will praise him for it, but if it could save lives during full moons, then the work is worth the effort. It is impossible to perform clinical trials when there are no werewolves present, but the potions interactions are well-documented, and he has every faith in his own abilities. After a few lunar cycles, he should be able to publish a new paper on his findings.
Part of the chaos in his life is not due to the students, surprisingly enough, but is caused by the adults in his vicinity. Stupidity is not tied to youth, so it seems.
On a large scale, the fight between social entities in the political arena is both fascinating and annoying. He enjoys the verbal sparring matches and the behind-the-scenes machinations, but the ludicrous predictions and legal filibustering put him on edge, grinding his teeth to a powder. He can't fathom how those dunderheads ever managed to gain power or keep it. If he was in charge, the Ministry would certainly be run very differently — more orderly, stream-lined, efficient, and without the bullshit necessary to woo the masses. He would never persuade anyone to follow him on mere words alone, but he would let his actions speak for him. Luckily for everyone, he has no desire to enter politics, and besides, he knows he has not the charisma to garner enough votes to win.
As it so happens, he has his own struggles to deal with on the small scale. The web of lies and deceits, of trickery and dubious movements traps him in his numerous positions — as professor, as potioneer, as Order member, and as Death Eater extraordinaire — to cover over the espionage he has sworn himself to in this war. The Dark Lord plots, the Headmaster plans, Umbridge schemes, and Fudge manoeuvres, and in the end, people will die. He knows he might be one. He hopes the boy will not.
His return to a fully-stocked potions lab is the one soothing consolation in all this. That it is attached to a potions classroom, however, sours the deal in his stomach.
At long last, he is freed from the nefarious job of teaching potions and is allowed to teach his other passion — dark arts defence. Duelling comes naturally to him thanks to his innate talents of quick reflexes and strong mental acuity, and he maintains a huge repertoire of spells, both dark and light, offensive and defensive, with which to teach the subject. He explains strengths and weaknesses in battle and how creative combinations of spell casting can secure victory. He finds he enjoys the pedagogical structure of this class much better than potions, most likely from the fact that he can hex his charges under the guise of simulated training. He most certainly uses every opportunity to hex Potter.
He still loves potion brewing and naturally keeps to that on the side. Poppy would be hard pressed to find another potioneer flexible enough to work with the school's schedule. Most apothecaries operate under strict guidelines as to how often a potion is made and how long it can sit on store shelves. They need a constant supply for restocking. Hogwarts is under no such regulation, and certain seasons demand more of one potion than another due to the curriculum. Add to this the increased tonic requirements from both the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters as the war escalates, and it becomes no small wonder that Severus' lab operates day and night, even when he's not around. Some brews simmer for days, while others practically mix themselves. That's what ingenious spellwork is for. He prides himself on his ability to handle it all.
The ever-running laboratory is particularly useful when he returns home late after being Crucio'd to within an inch of his life. Between the Dark Lord's bipolar moods, sometimes calling upon his potions skills for frivolity's sake and other times raging at the lack of damage that he can perform whilst Potter's still free, and Severus' various duties promised to a myriad of people, not the least of which is maintaining the Headmaster's level of comfort under the damned ring's curse as well as the Unbreakable Vow he holds with Narcissa for young Malfoy's safety, one begins to wonder if he ever sleeps. It is a good thing his lab runs constantly; he requires half the supply of Pepper-Up stores just for himself.
As much as he tells his first years that you can bottle fame and brew glory and stopper death, he knows realistically that those are half-truths and non-truths and outright lies. Fame garners accolades from actions, not objects, although the perfect tincture can earn fame for its creator. Glory is only found in bravery. And death cannot be stopped. Not completely. Not forever. Ask any historian. No witch or wizard from more than five hundred years ago is still alive today. Nicholas Flamel broke the Philosopher's Stone and died five years ago. Every vampire will go mad with blood-lust and be euthanized eventually. Even the Dark Lord died once and, if the gods are willing, will die again. Dumbledore died, the greatest wizard of his age. Lily died, as much as Severus tried to stop it. Now, Potter has to die, too, and worse off than any of them, the boy has to choose that death, embrace it with open arms. All efforts to the contrary would be wasted.
He wishes he could curse the former Headmaster. The lack of information from the deceased man and the uncertainty surrounding the boy and his gallivanting activities eats away at Severus' sanity, galls his sense of justice — just what does Potter do to receive such trust from Dumbledore anyway? — and turns his mental ramblings upside down. Why ask him to protect the boy all these years, only to allow Potter to roam the countryside on some foolish quest, while the danger becomes greater with each passing day? The Dark Lord is taking control of the whole of Great Britain, and Potter is named Undesirable No. 1. Everyone is searching for him, either from fear for their families, like Xenophilius Lovegood, whose daughter has been kidnapped by the Death Eaters, or from greed at cashing in on the reward, like that mongrel Scabior and his gang of Snatchers. Potter cannot waltz around freely — he must hide at every turn — and Severus' hands are tied, unable to furnish aide.
There is still the matter of getting the Sword of Gryffindor to the boy — Merlin only knows why he needs it — yet he and his friends have yet to divulge where they are camping. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for Severus, there is no generic tracking spell in existence, unless they say the taboo name of 'Voldemort.' Worrisome is the fact that Potter always says that name casually, without fear, not realising it's power. It will not be long before he is captured, and heaven can only help him then.
Of course, this is all moot anyway, seeing as Potter is just a lamb waiting for the slaughterhouse. Severus is unsure why he must wait to deliver Dumbledore's final message to the boy, when the boy could be caught and killed any day now. Severus, too, for that matter. Why wait until the Dark Lord fears for Nagini? He intuits that it has something to do with the boy's quest, but he has not enough knowledge to solve the riddle. It is irksome to his pride and niggles at his brain. If only there was a potion to save Potter's life, but there isn't. Death is a heavy burden, and there is no potion to alleviate that.
Ultimately, there are some potions that save lives, it turns out, his included. He knew the Dark Lord favoured using that damned serpent to attack and dispose of his would-be victims, like what occurred with Arthur Weasley in the Department of Mysteries. He still has the recipes for the St. Mungo's remedies he brewed to treat the patriarch, some as simple as the Blood-Replenishing Potion, others as complex as an antivenin powerful enough to counteract the magical snakes' poison. It is a testament to Severus' foresight that he not only keeps his supplies well stocked of all such tinctures, but that he pushes the boundaries of research into creating pre-emptive antidotes — such as the one that saved his life — not just reactive ones.
Although he was not teaching Potions or Defence last year, his duties around the school were many, the atmosphere tense, and he had no other outlet for his frustrations. As always, potion brewing served to calm him down, gave him a Zen space to reside in, if only for a few minutes a day. Pity the poor soul who interrupted him during his brewing periods. Alecto made that mistake once; she still has the stinging mark to prove it, should one visit her in Azkaban.
Now he returns to Hogwarts, mostly healed and freed by Potter's testimony and evidence left by Dumbledore, not to take up the mantle of Headmaster again — at least, not yet, not while so much public suspicion is on him; better to wait a decade or two for things to die down — but to resume the position he favours most — defence — as well as be Deputy to Headmistress McGonagall. He plans to form the duelling club again for fourth years and up, alongside a potions club for promising sixth and seventh years (currently, all five of them). Potions teaching belongs to the new assignee, some older wizard from Spain, but potions brewing will forever remain his hobby and his joy.