Albus Dumbledore, the head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry, was widely considered to be the most powerful wizard of the
modern age. He had been responsible for the fall of Grindelwald in the
mid-twentieth century, and in the late twentieth century, he was known
to be the only wizard feared by Lord Voldemort. He was powerful,
intelligent, and held in the deepest esteem by most who met him. Those
who did not esteem him did, at least, fear him.
was unusual for someone-- anyone-- to storm into his office without
announcement, not least because only a very few people knew the
passwords that would grant them the ability to do so even if they
happened to be willing.
Dumbledore's office was,
though, entered without invitation from time to time, and today the
arrival was Hogwarts' Potions Master, Severus Snape.
"Are we alone?" Severus asked abruptly.
"Good morning, Severus," said Dumbledore kindly, his eyes keen behind his omnipresent half-moon glasses.
"It is not a good morning. Are we alone?"
have walked into my office without invitation, so the least you could
do is say 'good morning.' And do close the door, won't you?"
morning," snarled Severus begrudgingly, more annoyed than usual by the
Headmaster's power play. Severus truly believed that he had every right
to be unpleasant if he so desired as long as he otherwise behaved
appropriately. He shut the door harder than was strictly necessary, but
not hard enough that Dumbledore would be able to say beyond a shadow of
a doubt that he was being petulant.
"There, now that wasn't so hard. Sit down and tell me what's on your mind, Severus."
"Is Percy Weasley a spy?" he asked bluntly, without preamble and without sitting down.
down, Severus." Again, Severus was forced to obey. The first time
Dumbledore had told him to sit down it had been a polite invitation,
but the second time was a sharp command. Dumbledore had been Hogwarts
Headmaster for many years, since Severus himself had been a student at
the school, and the younger man still well recognized the commanding
tone that Dumbledore now used.
"Is Percy Weasley a spy?" Severus repeated in a more calm tone of voice.
"Are you certain you want to know?"
"I'm certain I asked."
"Ah, but human beings often ask questions to which they would be better off not knowing the answers."
"I'm not one of your students anymore, Albus," Severus growled, as much to convince himself as to convince his companion.
had noticed that. I'd noticed you doing a fine job as Potions Master
among other things. That is why I wonder if you truly wish to know the
answer to your question."
"I told you it wasn't
a good morning. You're the most optimistic man I know, but you're so
certain that the Dark Lord knows who I am and is going to torture me
for information that you don't want me to know if the snot-nosed
Weasley brat is working for you."
"I didn't say I didn't want you to know, Severus. I asked if you wanted to know. Do you?"
Severus sighed deeply. "I suppose not."
"Is there anything else you would like to tell me? As Potions Master or as anything else?"
began to roll his eyes but deemed it not worth the effort. "Percy
Weasley was initiated into the junior circle of Death Eaters last
night. Two others tried, but they did not pass the Dark Lord's tests."
"And Percy did."
"Thank you, Severus."
"I have one other bit of information which you might find useful."
"The veritaserum under which he was interrogated was somehow switched with a simple anti-germ potion."
"I thought you might find it so." Severus rose. "I have classes to teach."
"I know you do. I won't keep you."
nodded curtly and left the room, making sure his robes snapped and
swished as he exited. He almost wished that Dumbledore had detained
him. Like every other wizard in the free world, he knew that the safest
location to be found was that which was in close proximity to Albus
Dumbledore. Severus would have liked to have claimed that he was able
to take care of himself, but in his heart of hearts he knew that that
simply was not true. He had sold his safety away long ago.
he was even younger than that sanctimonious, superior Weasley brat, he
too had submitted to the ordeals that allowed him entrance into the
circle of Death Eaters. Because of his family's reputation and the
friends he had made in school, as well as his fantastic talent for both
hexes and potions, he had been accepted to the Inner Circle almost
instantaneously. To his great disgust, though, he had found that the
incessant lectures from Dumbledore and other Hogwarts professors had
affected him more deeply than he had imagined. The more time he had
spent with the megalomaniacal Death Eaters and their leader, the more
they had disgusted him. Kill all Muggles? Kill all Muggle-borns, even
all half-bloods, and call this a service to humanity? Although there
were some prominent members of Dumbledore's anti-Voldemort forces to
whom Severus would have dearly loved to raise his wand, there were
others whom he knew he would never have been able to curse, let alone
Thus, he had been forced into a role as a double
agent, and had, by betraying those he had spent all his youth working
to join, become destined to a life of twofold fear. Firstly, he, like
any other thinking wizard, feared the fall of light magic. Apocalypse
was not something to be looked forward to with impatience. Secondly,
and more personally, he feared that his role as an undercover agent
would eventually be revealed to the Dark Lord, Lucius Malfoy, and the
other Death Eaters. The day he was held up as a spy would be the day he
died a death ten times more painful than the little initiation
ceremonies that were held to frighten new recruits. His life was
constrained by the Death Eaters (although they did not know it), and he
sincerely doubted that they would quickly grant him freedom through
Severus' students all knew that he was not to be
trifled with. They knew that he knew roughly as much about Dark Arts as
he did Potions. They knew that he would treat the members of the houses
that admitted students with common blood unfairly. They knew that he
was a host of things that they could not repeat to their parents for
fear of getting their mouths washed out with soap.
did not know that every day, and every night, he worried that Light
Magic would fall, and that with it would fall Hogwarts. If Hogwarts
fell, all those students whom everyone knew he hated would lose their lives, some of them after a scant eleven years of existence.
he glided into the Potions classroom, looking menacing and ready to
hand out detention to the first student who so much as opened his or
her mouth, he quickly spat out directions for brewing the simplest
Alacrity Potion and ordered the students into pairs. Then he retreated
to the front of the room to await the disaster that was sure to occur
with this particular group of students.
Longbottom. Severus knew as well as the next person that the state of
Longbottom's parents was a true tragedy, a true example of what Death
Eaters were capable. But Longbottom was difficult to teach, inept in
every way, and impossible for someone like Severus, who had always been
a rapid and confident learner, to relate to. The boy was a squib, pure
and simple. It was impossible to believe that his blood was every bit
as pure as the blood of the members of the inner circle.
grimace deepened as his sharp eyes continued to scan the Gryffindor
half of the room. The three ringleaders were working together, but he
could hardly protest since the number of students in the fifth-year
classes had been made uneven by the absence of Parvati (from
Gryffindor/Slytherin) and Padma (from Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff) Patil. The
twins' parents had taken them home after they had become pawns in a
Death Eater scheme, the intent of which Severus found himself still
unable to decipher. No one had told him what had been about to happen;
this was the principle reason that he believed that, yes, he was
suspected to be a double agent. He wondered how soon Albus would let
him pass some information that did not look useless.
glared ever harder at the three of them, huddled together, heads bowed
over their cauldron so that all Severus could see was a blending of
ebony, chestnut, and flame. For the quickest instant, Potter looked up
to see if he was being watched and Severus was able to glimpse the
boy's glasses. He looked so much like his father; they looked so much
like James Potter and his gang.
Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. The four had
done everything as a unit: moved, eaten, made friends, studied, worked,
caused trouble, fought, and spoken as one. At first glance it had
looked something like a hive mind; on closer observation, it became
obvious that the other three simply did Potter's bidding. Potter
himself had been unable to sneeze without first checking with Black,
the most conceited and hypocritical of the group.
rule existed at Hogwarts that the four friends had not managed to
break, but they had always wormed their way out of trouble because of
the favoritism that ran rampant through the school. A disingenuous
comment from Black, a mock-sincere glance from Potter, or a falsely shy
smile from Lupin was all it took to convince a professor to give them
commendations and house points instead of detentions and expulsions.
Severus had been involved in an extremely personal way
in the most egregious example of the Hogwarts faculty's collective
blind spot when it came to the Potter gang. Black had sent Severus past
a barrier that had been meant to protect him from one of the most
dangerous dark creatures in existence-- a werewolf. The werewolf--
which called itself "Lupin" when it was not out killing, maiming, and
biting innocent people-- had not been expelled from school, or even
punished. More significantly, Black had not been expelled or given more
than the proverbial slap on the wrist.
Yes, that was
what Hogwarts had thought of Severus: he was not so valuable that a
fellow student's attempt to murder him needed to be taken seriously.
The Death Eaters had never taken him so lightly; and yet, he had returned to Hogwarts and its Headmaster.
years after Severus barely escaped the hungered jaws of the wolf, after
Black had once again escaped the clutches of Severus and a team of
dementors alike, Severus had brought himself to ask Dumbledore to
explain exactly why his life had been deemed worthless by the Hogwarts
staff of the time. To Severus' pure and utter disgust, Dumbledore had
"Severus, you never were able to think clearly when it came to Sirius Black and his friends."
"Why should I? He tried to kill me!"
"He was hardly old enough to contemplate murder. He did not think his actions through."
"He's old enough now, and yet the last time I saw him he was still bragging about it."
last time you saw him he begged you to let him explain his situation,
but you were more concerned about securing him a dementor's kiss than
you were about the potential threat to the future of light magic."
"His story was ridiculous."
"The truth often is."
"Why are you so certain that he is telling the truth?"
sanity after twelve years in Azkaban, and his refusal to hurt Harry,
and the stories of Remus and the children, are difficult pieces of
evidence to forget."
"The werewolf-- never mind. That isn't what I asked. I asked about what happened when we were in school."
you did. And I began by mentioning that you are unthinking, and perhaps
even melodramatic, when the subject of Sirius Black arises. I would
prefer that you attempt to put your abject loathing for him aside if we
are going to discuss an event involving him."
For the rest of this conversation, I will forget that he tried to kill
me." Severus paused for a sarcastic beat. "So why didn't anyone care
that he tried to kill me?"
"He was punished, Severus."
"Detention? The same as he would have gotten for setting off a dungbomb during History of Magic?"
more. You're a professor now. You know that when a student breaks the
rules, we attempt not simply to punish him but, more importantly, to
help him understand why his choice was the wrong one and encourage him
not to do it again."
"And since Black hasn't attempted murder since then, so far as we know, you were happy with the outcome?"
"I think the solution we found was the best for all involved."
"He's never shown any remorse."
"Would you show any to him, if you felt it toward him?"
have never tried to kill him. I've tried to kill several times. As a
Death Eater. And I believe that I've shown remorse every day since then
by risking my life as a double agent, by staying here and trying to
guide my students away from the Dark path. You're steering away from
the point again, Albus. I won't have it. Why wasn't Black punished more
"I imagine it was rather punishing for him
to face Remus the next day and explain why he nearly turned him into
what he most feared becoming. I imagine it was very difficult to say to
one of his closest friends that he regarded him as a thing and
manipulated him for selfish purposes. That he took advantage of a
secret. It must have been quite difficult for him to ask Remus'
"The werewolf wouldn't care. He obviously
didn't. He was no better than Pettigrew. He liked to keep Black and
Potter around to protect him, and to help him get outside to do damage
during the full moon."
"I don't believe that you believe that train of logic."
Severus snorted in disagreement.
"All right, then," Dumbledore continued. "Did you consider yourself an even match for any of your classmates?"
"Yes, as long as professors weren't around to take their parts."
"Did you ever notice Remus being intimidated by you? Do you think you frighten him now?"
"He's not the talent you made him out to be when you gave him the Defense Against the Dark Arts job."
"Is he afraid of you?"
"No. He's a Dark Creature. He needs only to wait for the next full moon to ruin me or anyone else."
"Then he did not need Sirius' protection, as Sirius understood it. However, I believe that you are right."
"What?" The two parts of Dumbledore's statement did not seem to mesh.
would not have dealt well with Sirius' expulsion. He would have had to
face Sirius' best friends every day until they graduated. He would have
had to live with James and Peter, and he would have felt their reproach
even if they did not reproach him. He would have felt guilty for
sending Sirius to a fate as an unqualified wizard. Remus deserved more
than that. He was as much as victim as you were. In fact, as I recall
he looked worse the next morning than you did."
Black wasn't expelled because Lupin was your pet project? You were so
eager to be the Headmaster who made a werewolf--"
"A victim of childhood lycanthropy."
"--into a fully trained wizard that you let his murderous best friend stay on?"
don't deny that I had high hopes for Remus. It's always the hardest for
the first one. Now that Hogwarts has trained a werewolf without any
permanent harm being done, the door is open for us to accept the next
child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not all children
have the patience and the self-control and the sense of responsibility
that Remus did. I don't deny that I was delighted when I learned about
him-- someone who would be able to survive the prejudice and the
meanness and the physical trials and make it through, so that the
prejudice and the meanness faced by the next student will not be so
"And the next student will know that it's perfectly all right to attack his classmates."
next student will know that he does not need to be perfect and that no
more is expected of him than of his classmates."
"Less is expected, in fact."
told you that I believed that we found the best solution for all
concerned. No less was expected of Remus than of the rest of you, but
he did as well as any of you. He is a powerful, gifted wizard and a
decent human being who has risked his life for the cause of light magic
just as you have. Just as Sirius Black has. The world would be worse
off without any one of the three of you in it. That is the final word
on why none of you were expelled-- and don't look at me that way,
Severus, you knew at the time that under no circumstances were you to
go near the Whomping Willow."
"So I deserved to be punished just as much as Black did? Truly, Albus--"
"You've made your opinion known, Severus. You asked a question and I answered it."
the question had been answered, but not to Severus' satisfaction. No
answer could truly have satisfied him other than, "We were wrong not to
expel Sirius Black and bring him up on criminal charges. His friends
should have been investigated as well because that group simply did not
act independently of one another and if one knew of a murder attempt,
all four knew of it. You were more valuable than any of them, and it
would have been a serious blow to lose you. We have been hypocritical
in the past by punishing you without punishing them in kind. Their
friendship has been regarded as a beautiful, special thing instead of
the weakness that it is. How are they to fight properly in the war if
they have convinced one another that they are not expendable? How are
they to have good judgment when all of their thoughts toward one
another are tempered by affection? You are also absolved of feeling any
debt of gratitude to James Potter, because he would not have had to
save your life if he and his minions hadn't put it in danger in the
Instead, he had been told, "The rules
apply to you. They do not apply to them, even when they attempt to
commit murder, the most heinous of all crimes."
felt his face contorting into a sneer, and realized that he had been
daydreaming during a class. Such behavior was extremely dangerous, but
he found himself doing it more and more often lately. The potential
rise of the Dark Lord was enough to distract anyone.
He raised his eyes and again saw the younger Potter.
points from Gryffindor, Potter," he said smoothly. The Slytherin half
of the class stopped working and looked up with interest while the
braver members of the Gryffindor half favored Severus with glares.
"What for, Sir?" he asked flatly, while Granger tried
to keep Weasley from phrasing the question in a more expressive way.
So I can even out the unfairness that has always been shown to members of your family and your house,
Severus thought but could not say. Instead, he replied, "For having all
of your ingredients prepared when the rest of the class does not.
There's no need to show off. It's perfectly obvious that you are only
ahead because there are three of you, instead of two as in the other
Severus was treated to supportive comments
from the Slytherins, and Potter put his head back down, helping Granger
convince Weasley that he should keep his mouth shut.
Who's in control, now, Potter? Severus asked mentally, temporarily blurring the line between father and son.
strong familial resemblance was that between Ron Weasley and his
brother Percy. They looked more alike than any of the other Weasley
siblings, except for the twins, who were just identical. All of the
children in that family-- and there were seven-- had bright red hair,
bright brown eyes, and more freckles than could be counted. Percy and
Ron, though, were particularly tall and lanky, but not as
non-conformist in appearance as their eldest brother Bill, whose
attitude kept most people from noticing what he actually looked like
(probably rather similar to Ron and Percy).
As long as
he was on the subject of personality, though . . . Percy had been the
easiest of the seven to handle in class, even easier to deal with than
the little girl. He had never broken a single rule, which led Severus
to wonder if he really belonged in the house in which the Sorting Hat
had placed him, and had been an annoyance only because he was a
know-it-all. His talent in Potions was not inconsiderable and Severus
had not had to put any effort into teaching him. He had made himself an
easy target to be laughed at by the Slytherins, much the way Potter's
friend Granger did.
Ron, though, was not the
rule-follower that Percy was. Ron yelled. Ron swore. Ron threw
ingredients and punches. Ron lost far more points for Gryffindor than
he was worth. Ron's opinions were always worn on his sleeve. He hated
his Potions Master; he had a crush on his female best friend; he adored
his male best friend but was cripplingly jealous of him; he was
embarrassed by his family's financial situation; and he would never,
ever, despite his thirst for attention, join forces with the Dark Lord.
It was harder to tell with Percy.
Would Dumbledore not have reacted if he had not known of Percy's recent activities?
Or had Percy truly become a Death Eater, drawn by the promise of the power he obviously craved?