~ In which fifteen is hell ~
Severus Snape opened his eyes. He felt warm and comfortable, and didn’t seem to be staring at the dark, barely visible stone ceiling of his dungeon. The ceiling above him was lit a light pink from the setting sun, and a warm breeze wafted through a nearby window. He blinked bemusedly around when a blur of black fur suddenly obscured his vision, hurling itself towards him and latching on to his face.
“Get off!” he choked, tearing the furball from him and throwing it away.
The kitten twisted its body in midair, landing gracefully on its feet and bolting under the bed. But Snape wasn’t paying any attention to the cat; he was staring very hard at his hand in front of him. He looked quickly around for his wand, and seized it from the bedside table. He was just about to summon a mirror when he caught sight of his blurred reflection in the looking glass next to the sink. Unable to believe what he was looking at, he brought his hands up to touch his face before cursing violently and stumbling awkwardly out of bed towards the mirror.
He glared at his clear reflection and gasped. A horrified, teenage boy was staring back at him.
“So, until we have a counter-potion I am afraid you are stuck like that, Severus.”
Snape stared into space as Albus Dumbledore paced the room, still unable to comprehend how the recent chain of events had come about.
Much to his horror, the house-elves had already cleaned up the mess in the dungeons, leaving not a drop of spilled liquid behind. The Potion Masters at Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, along with various doctors from St Mungos were each contacted one after the other, but to no avail. Each had replied promptly that such a case was not possible to happen in the first place and were quite curious as to why Dumbledore would enquire such a thing. Snape was horrified at being made a laughing stock, so Dumbledore hadn’t bothered to reply.
The enormity of his condition just starting to sink in, Snape’s moody stare flicked from the blank wall before him to out the window, at the glittering lake below. He couldn’t help but feel that Dumbledore would think he’d done this on purpose, as if to get out of whatever nasty job was in store for him. He felt unusually cowed as he sat there, suddenly unable to meet the Headmaster’s eyes.
“I don’t blame you for what happened, you know,” murmured Dumbledore, breaking the long silence and reading Snape’s averted gaze like a book.
“I know that,” replied Snape curtly, feeling horribly uncomfortable but forcing his eyes to glare back up at Dumbledore’s. To his surprise, Dumbledore was looking back at him with a half smile on his face.
“You know, Severus, although it’s an unpleasant ordeal for you, this is still quite a notable achievement that you’ve stumbled across,” he said. “I believe this is the first successful body-age reduction of all time.”
Snape snorted loudly, though straining his brain as he tried to mentally run over all of the different combinations of ingredients, and then all of the potions they had been combined in, and then all of the possible ways they could have affected his Polyjuice Potion…
“It wasn’t successful at all,” he said eventually, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice as his brain gave up in frustration. “It was an accident – and a ridiculously clumsy one at that.”
“Some of the best inventions start out being accidents.”
“That’s only assuming this is permanent,” said Snape at once, “–and I shall make sure that it will not be.”
“Yes, that would be a pity,” agreed Dumbledore after a brief pause. “The loss of your services would be quite a blow to our side. Not to mention your value as a teacher in this school.”
“Yes, well the remaining weeks of the holidays should be sufficient for finding a cure,” said Snape stiffly, annoyed at himself for flushing slightly at Dumbledore’s words. It was as if a steady supply of adrenaline was pumping into his body and making him feel restless and emotionally agitated. He could’ve sworn he hadn’t felt like this when he was a teenager the first time.
“Are you quite all right, Severus?” asked Dumbledore gently, peering with some concern at Snape’s rapidly drumming fingers on the bedside table.
“I’m fine,” snapped Snape, ceasing the drumming and instead fiddling with a loose thread on the mattress.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows ever so slightly and looked out of the window with interest.
“You know when I was younger, I found there was nothing more relaxing than spending a sunny day rowing or swimming to get rid of any, ah… excess energy I might have had. It made my concentration and countenance so much more agreeable.”
Snape sniffed rudely. “I assure you that I am fine, Headmaster,” he ground out. “I am perfectly capable of handling this adolescent body without any meaningless physical exertion.”
Dumbledore smiled at the Professor’s precise words coming from a sulky boy’s mouth. “Well, I wish you good luck in your endeavours and look forward to having my Potions Master back before the start of the school term.”
As Dumbledore got up to leave, a slightly harassed look came over Snape’s face. “Er… Headmaster… If, by any chance, I somehow don’t –” he began.
“Then you must continue to work on it throughout the year,” cut in Dumbledore genially.
“But the students –”
“You can act as a student yourself,” said Dumbledore smoothly. “We have quite a few on exchange this year, you know. No one has to know who you really are.”
“We’ll say that you are Professor Snape’s nephew, and he has gone away for a while, leaving you (who is honourably named after his uncle) to start school at Hogwarts.”
“Who will –”
“I will teach Potions in the meantime.”
“But-you-can’t-expect-me-to-do-this!” Snape burst out angrily in one breath, before he could get interrupted again.
Dumbledore looked at him mildly. “Now, Severus, it will give you time to catch up on your childhood. Besides, I have absolute faith in your potion making abilities and I’m certain you’ll find the cure within a few weeks anyway.”
But the more Snape thought about finding a cure, the more difficult he thought it would be. Polyjuice Potion in the least took a month to brew.
“Oh and Severus… I’m afraid some of the staff already know about your current predicament,” said Dumbledore offhandedly, though not quite meeting his eyes. “Minerva was here earlier and seemed to find your situation… er… slightly amusing and brought back the other Heads to er… that is… they found it slightly amusing also.”
“What?” Snape glared him. “That old trout! And who else has she told in the meantime?”
“Don’t be rude, Severus,” reproached Dumbledore. “She knows she’s to tell nobody else. It’s only the Heads of Houses, Madam Pomfrey and myself who are to know.”
“And that’s five too many,” muttered Snape under his breath.
“Don’t make yourself handle this on your own, Severus,” said Dumbledore, seriously. “And besides, Professors McGonagall and Flitwick have both taught you before and would most certainly have recognised you anyway. You know it’s still quite easy to tell who you are.”
“Then everyone will know!” Snape burst out at once. Annoyed that he’d lost his cool, Snape settled into a seething silence, narrowing his eyes as Dumbledore drew his wand and started descending towards him. “Wait… what…what are you doing?”
“Incisorus!” Dumbledore commanded, waving his wand to sever large clumps of hair from Snape’s head. Ignoring the alarmed look on Severus’s face, Dumbledore continued to zap here and there, cropping Snape’s slightly greasy hair very short against his head.
“I could have done this myself,” muttered Snape sullenly, glaring at his reflection on the far side of the room. “And what’s that? You can’t just leave one long bit when it’s all short. I look ridiculous!”
Dumbledore shrugged. “I thought they were all the rage these days.” He zapped it off at Snape’s look of irritation. “There. What do you think?”
“I don’t know, it’s just hair,” said Snape testily, glaring at his reflection. “Can you order the house-elves to my office for questioning? I’ve wasted enough time lying around up here.”
“Of course,” replied Dumbledore, his concerned face softening as Snape struggled out of bed in robes too big for him. “But don’t be so hard on yourself, Severus. If things don’t go as planned, perhaps you could treat this as a long-deserved break.”
Snape’s face tightened at these words and he didn’t reply. Quickly transfiguring his robes, he left the room in strained silence.
Snape tossed and turned in his bed. It felt somewhat comforting to be back in his quarters but he still felt strange, as if he didn’t fit somehow. He wasn’t short for a fifteen-year-old, but he still felt too small for his bed and simply ridiculous sitting behind his desk with his feet barely touching the floor. Questioning the house-elves had achieved hardly anything, and he was currently starting to brew a fresh batch of Polyjuice Potion.
It was then that he realised that the last batch he’d ruined had been for Dumbledore, yet another thing he’d messed up.
After about five minutes of pummelling his lumpy pillow in frustration, he began to feel much calmer when another sudden thought struck him. He reached for his wand on his bedside table.
“Lumos,” he muttered.
Snape pulled the sleeve of his left arm up. He glared at the familiar tattoo, not knowing whether to be relieved or depressed.
It would be hard resisting the Dark Lord’s call in this weaker body. He’d already discovered that his spells weren’t as powerful now as they’d grown to be. And he had no idea as to how he was supposed to defend himself when he couldn’t even Apparate anymore. Perhaps he should speak to Dumbledore about it.
Tomorrow. Try to sleep.
But it was so hard. Sleep didn’t come easily to this restless body. He tried to relax his clenched jaw but only succeeded in clenching his fists instead. The school term started in barely a month! He had a horrible feeling that his cure would evade him, and Dumbledore would force him to relive his humiliating school days.
No, Snape thought to himself. The idea was preposterous. In any case…at least his old school rivals wouldn’t be back to haunt him.
Snape shovelled soil vigorously. After two sleepless nights in a row he had grudgingly accepted the offer to help Hagrid with his vegetable patch. Much to his disgust, everyone seemed to treat him like he was fragile, and Snape was starting to regret working so closely with Hagrid as the great oaf seemed to have developed the idea that he was to be ‘taken under his wing’. It was only later that Snape found out that his parents had apparently died quite recently, and his dear Uncle Severus had gone to clear everything up – courtesy of Dumbledore.
Snape slapped an insect and winced as he hit burnt skin. Blasted sun, he seethed. Pale skin was absolutely useless! And what was the point of working off his energy during the day when it was impossible to sleep at night with all this irritating sunburn?
He ran his fingers through his short hair, hating the way it had become a habit to do so. He kept thinking that he’d gone bald, without the familiar curtains of hair drooping down over his face, so perfectly concealing and comforting.
His thoughts were interrupted as a soft ball of fur hit the back of his legs. He whirled around in a second, happy to take out his frustrations on the kitten.
“Stop following me,” he growled, and kicked out at it.
He couldn’t understand why the cat kept following him around, Mrs Norris had never particularly taken to him before her transformation. Filch refused to believe that they were the same cat and was still lamenting the supposed death of the ‘real’ Mrs Norris. Snape had already put up with the Headmaster’s suggestions (“Why don’t you keep her? I say, call her Oreo!”).
He’d responded with a long-suffering scowl and stalked off, however the effect was somewhat ruined by a gambolling ‘Oreo’ proceeding to chase his ankles. He’d eventually decided to ignore the playful cat and contented himself with aiming a kick at the kitten whenever it bounded past.
Snape’s shovel froze in mid-thrust. With all the despicable things he had to endure, he didn’t think he could stand one more.
“What did you just call me?” he asked scathingly, as he turned to the Gamekeeper and gave him his coldest look imaginable.
Hagrid squinted at him in surprise, the sun beating down into his eyes. “What was that, Sev?” he inquired, completely oblivious to the look on the boy’s face.
Snape growled indistinctly and took it out on the soil. He still couldn’t figure out why Hagrid hadn’t recognised him, let alone why he kept asking for his help in his garden. Hagrid had been Gamekeeper while Snape had been at school properly, and hadn’t exactly been one of Snape’s biggest fans.
The shovelling boy glanced over at Hagrid, who had stopped his work and was looking at him with something close to pity. Snape’s face tightened and he dropped his shovel. He didn’t need any pity.
He stalked back to the castle for a shower. He’d been wasting far too much time doing mindless exercise when he needed to spend it working on his counter-potion. There were still the countless bottles that were on his shelf that he needed to analyse, and he still had to deduce exactly which ones might have fallen into his cauldron.
Snape cursed as he jogged up the castle steps. He had forgotten to ask Dumbledore about his assignment. There had to be something he could do, even if he looked like an adolescent twit.
He glared around him at the empty Entrance Hall. Only three weeks to go before it was filled with students’ mocking laughter.
The sun peeped over
Gone were the tapered precise fingers, made steady from holding potion ingredients hours upon end. Instead were these coarse, clumsy things, hardened and callused by physical labour. He clenched his fists and noticed new, still lean but slightly prominent muscles tensing in response. His sunburnt upon sunburnt skin had peeled away, leaving him a light nutty brown colour, instead of his pale, bordering on anaemic skin prior. Finally he looked at his face, and felt a burst of annoyance. He looked like a simpering fifth year, with his smooth chin and pleasant expression. He quickly twisted his face into his usual scowl-cross-sneer and felt relieved. This young body was twisting his mind, now he was starting to feel as if he didn’t belong down here, as if he wanted to be outside. He shook his head and fastened his outer robes. He had painstakingly recreated nearly all of the potions upon his shelves, and it was nearing the time when the Polyjuice Potion would be ready.
He started up the stairs, aiming a kick at a certain black kitten and remembering his question for Dumbledore. The Headmaster should be back by now. He had been away on his usual mysterious business for the past two weeks.
Snape made his way up the moving staircases, to the very top floor towards the Headmaster’s office. Feeling slightly foolish, he whispered the usual ridiculous password and ascended up the stairs. He opened the door and saw Dumbledore sitting at his desk, writing busily with a luxurious quill. Snape cleared his throat and Dumbledore jumped. The Headmaster pushed his half-moon spectacles back into place and smiled at the changed figure standing before him.
“Sneaking up on me, Severus?”
Snape looked indignant. “Of course not, I made no such effort!” he replied hotly. Damned stupid adrenaline rush.
Dumbledore looked at him shrewdly and set down his quill. “I suppose my letter to Aberforth can wait,” he murmured.
Waving his hand in an irritated apology, Snape launched straight into his prepared speech. “I came to see you, Headmaster, because I am anxious to know what you are assigning me to do. I know I am not much use now, but –”
“On the contrary, Severus, you are very useful as you are now,” Dumbledore interrupted.
Snape looked taken aback. “I am not at my full strength…at the moment…but the Polyjuice Potion will help me brew my cure very soon,” he began.
“Cutting it a bit fine aren’t we, Severus? Term starts in one week, yes, yes I know the Polyjuice Potion won’t be ready until then,” he said hastily, as Snape started to turn red. “But there might be something else you could do…” he said thoughtfully.
Snape looked at him mistrustfully. “If it has anything to do with Potter, then no,” he said flatly.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and picked up his quill once more. “I thought as much. But someday you will have to work together, Severus, you know that don’t you?”
“Well, good luck then. I must get back to my letter, Severus, but we shall talk again before the start of the term.”
Snape hovered in front of the Headmaster’s desk a while longer, before the scratching of Dumbledore’s quill made it clear that the conversation was over. Feeling quite annoyed and unable to believe his situation was being taken so lightly, Severus turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. His face was stormy as he pictured another week of teenage awkwardness. Taking the steps two at a time he descended quickly, heading downwards towards Hagrid’s hut for his daily dose of unpleasantries.
Rubeus Hagrid glanced at the boy next to him gulping down his breakfast. He really did eat a lot. Sort of reminded him of himself at that age. It was quite a pity really; the boy had told him he might be leaving today. He’d been a great help organising lessons for the year and he was going to miss the strong lad who helped him in his garden.
Severus Snape finished his breakfast and got up. He nodded at the Gamekeeper and Headmaster and left hurriedly.
Finally. Finally it was ready.
A familiar black kitten followed closely at his heels, but this time he made no effort to kick it away. He whipped out his wand and opened the door to his office, striding across the room to the adjoining one in which he brewed all of his potions in private. He quickly switched back to his old (rather big) robes and left Dumbledore’s transfigured, shorter ones by the door.
He opened a vial and pulled a clump of boarhound fur from it. It seemed ridiculous but his experiments had shown that dog hair should counteract with that damned cat hair. And speaking of which…
He contemplated whether he should change the cat back as well. Seeming to read his mind, the kitten gave one last rub against his ankles before bolting for the door. Snape shrugged. He didn’t care anyway.
He tossed the fur in firmly. Stirring the mixture carefully he uncorked the next vial of carefully prepared liquid and poured it slowly in.
The potion turned a familiar bright blue colour. Snape put his wand on the table and looked down at the steaming mixture. Deciding to do everything as he did before, he got ready to tip the cauldron of liquid over himself before he hesitated. He was starting to feel strangely attached to his new body…
He pinched himself furiously for having this momentary fit of insanity. It would be ridiculous to remain a boy! Besides, the Headmaster was counting on him.
He steadied his hands onto the rim and got ready to tip it over when something sharp hit his face.
“YOU STUPID BEAST!” he roared, batting the cat furiously away.
But this caused him to lose his balance, tipping the liquid not only over him, but over the alarmed feline as well. He felt the steaming fluid wash over him, as he reluctantly opened his mouth to allow some to go gushing in. Then his head hit the floor with a crack, and his vision blurred to black.
Severus Snape groaned dully as he rolled onto his side. His closed eyelids flickered as memories of a cauldron tipping on him a second time started forming hazily in his mind. With a sudden burst of realisation, he flung his hands to his face and sat up.
Nothing had changed.
A wave of frustrated fury burst through him as he rolled over and buried his face in his pillow, furiously analysing preparations he’d gone through, checking and rechecking why, after all his planning it didn’t work. His head started to hurt from concentration and disappointment, every calculation fading instead to the look of scorn on everyone’s faces when they’d seen that he’d failed. By God, he was a man, not a snivelling boy; how could the world taunt him like this?
“I’m sorry, Severus.”
The Headmaster’s gentle voice didn’t come as a surprise to the numb Potions Master. He was obviously in a bed in the hospital wing, and he at once felt self-conscious of the fact that his face was buried into a pillow as if he was crying. He instantly rolled over and sat back up, glaring stonily out of the nearby window towards the huge lake. Judging from the sun it was quite late in the afternoon. He must have been unconscious for quite a while.
Dumbledore spoke again, his voice irritatingly soothing. “When you’re ready, Severus, you must tell me of what happened in every detail.”
Snape continued glaring at the glittering lake, the sunlit reflections hurting his eyes but refusing to look at the Headmaster. Eventually he started to mutter what had happened, but when he got to the part about Fang’s fur, Dumbledore interrupted.
“So that explains the tail!” he exclaimed.
Snape’s glare intensified. “Tail?”
“Er…yes…nasty job removing it… but continue with your story,” Dumbledore said rather hastily.
But the wave of humiliation he felt was suddenly put on hold when a thought occurred to him. “What about the cat fur the first time?”
Dumbledore looked at him closely, as if expecting him to sprout a pair of whiskers.
“I see no visible cat attributes,” said Dumbledore eventually, but then his expression brightening at a growing muffled disturbance below. “Aha! I hear the sound of trampling feet! The students are arriving! We shall talk later tonight, Severus. Come now, let us go greet the students in the Entrance Hall.”
Snape sank further into the bed as a response. He must have been unconscious for at least forty-eight hours!
“What you said a month ago,” Snape said suddenly, gripping the blankets around him tightly. “About me being enrolled as a student – you can’t be serious!”
“I’m sorry, Severus,” replied Dumbledore with a sigh. “But we need your potion-making skills on hand and there is nowhere more convenient and safe than Hogwarts. You look to be around fifteen and I’m sure the fifth years won’t even notice you amidst all the other exchange students.”
“I’m sorry, Severus,” Dumbledore repeated wearily. “Oh, and I shall be teaching Potions in the meantime, as well as being Slytherin’s Head of House.”
“What!” Snape burst out in disbelief. “The Slytherins will revolt!”
“Don’t be melodramatic, Severus,” Dumbledore called over his shoulder, heading for the door but motioning towards a cupboard. “I’ve shortened some of my old robes for you to wear. I hope you don’t start the term by being late.”
As always, Dumbledore had the annoying ability of making it clear that the conversation was over, and Snape, wallowing in self-loathing and disbelief, pulled on his new robes and forced himself to follow.
Merry torchlight flickered outwards as Rubeus Hagrid pulled open the great doors of the castle.
“Welcome teh Hogwarts!” he boomed to the awed first years.
“You’re early, Hagrid,” Professor McGonagall said quite pointedly to him, making her way past the older students to look at him rather severely.
“Oh… well, some of these firs’ years are good rowers, eh?” he said somewhat shiftily, fingering his enormous umbrella, but then getting distracted as he caught sight of Dumbledore and a certain sulky-looking boy descending from the far stairs.
“SEV!” he bellowed, making McGonagall stagger backwards with her hands over her ears. “Glad yeh stayin’! Listen, I wan’ yeh t’meet a few friends of mine!”
Far off on the stairway Snape paused, looking as if he’d sucked on a lemon.
Dumbledore glanced over his shoulder at the boy and raised his eyebrows. “You know, being acquainted with wizards of such moral fibre as Hagrid would surely be an asset in the social department, Severus.”
“Bah,” muttered Snape with a long-suffering glare, but eventually moving towards the enormous shaggy man with a very bad grace. “Hello, Hagrid,” he muttered, nodding stiffly and attempting to control his scowl.
Hagrid grinned in reply, looking as if he was about to give him the biggest treat in the world. Snape responded with a thin smile that turned to ice as he heard his next words.
“HARRY! RON! HERMIONE! OVER HERE!” Hagrid bellowed.
An important-looking girl with a big ‘P’ badge started to push her way towards them. A boy roughly the same size with a shock of messy black hair followed hastily afterwards. A second boy, taller than the other two, followed reluctantly after them, rolling his eyes and apologising for the girl’s behaviour. They stood as a trio, all talking at once with Hagrid beaming away at them.
“Righ’ I’d like all yeh t’meet Sev Snape, Professor Snape’s nephew.”
Harry and Ron exchanged disbelieving looks before they all turned to face him.
Snape fixed them with an icy stare. “That’s Severus Snape,” he said coolly, trying to restrain the intense dislike radiating from his face.
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked as though they were trying to restrain the incredulity rising in theirs.
“Er… what year are you in then?” Ron began lamely.
“I didn’t know Snape had a nephew,” Hermione blurted out suddenly. “You look just like him!”
Severus gave her a withering glare. “Thank you for the compliment,” he sneered, and stalked off.
But as he was leaving, he couldn’t help but overhear Hermione’s whisper, “I know this is mad – but I’d swear that’s the Professor himself! He seems to act just like him… plus, he does sort of resemble a better-looking Snape…”
Luckily he walked out of range before he could hear Harry and Ron’s gagging noises.
Snape seethed as he shouldered past countless students. He tried to force himself to calm down and think rationally, but whenever he grew angry he found it hard to think these days. Trust that know-it-all Granger to jump to conclusions. So he acts like ‘Snape’ does he?
Oh no, he groaned mentally, but it would be so difficult to act otherwise! But… he must. No one must suspect him, especially not Potter and followers. He may have lost his body and half his magical strength, but he would not lose his reputation or his pride.
Distracted by his thoughts, Snape changed direction suddenly, only to collide heavily with a boy slightly shorter than him.
“Watch out!” they both snapped at the same time.
Snape glared at the boy in annoyance, surprise replacing his anger when he recognised the irritated face. “Malfoy!” he exclaimed.
Draco Malfoy looked at the stranger in suspicion. “Who’re you? Have we met?” he demanded at once.
Snape quickly replied. “Ah yes…my uncle mentioned you – you might know him, Professor Snape? I was named after him…”
Draco looked somewhat gratified at being mentioned by his Head of House, and his expression became almost friendly. “Are you really?” he replied, looking slightly impressed. “Well, I must say, your uncle is definitely the best teacher here by far. He really puts those smarmy Gryffindors in their place. I bet you’ll be in Slytherin just like him, eh?”
Snape smirked smugly in response. Perhaps all of his students weren’t such a lost cause after all.
The huge crowd of students clamoured around the Great Hall, each eager to catch up with their friends. Draco was standing towards the back with Severus, bragging about the merits of Slytherin House and the absolute awfulness of Gryffindor which Snape found himself strangely enjoying.
“Do you have a broom?” asked Draco suddenly, but then looking disappointed at the other boy’s negative headshake. “You really should get one, I’m head of Slytherin’s Quidditch team and I could probably get you on if you’re any good.”
“Oh… I don’t think I am,” Snape replied, thinking back to his clumsy attempts at flying in his school days. “But thanks for the offer.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Draco rather formally, as if he wasn’t quite used to being genuinely thanked for something. There was a brief uncomfortable silence as he looked around the room. “Your uncle’s not at the staff table, where is he?”
“Er, my parents are dead. Killed quite recently,” mumbled Snape, looking slightly awkward. “He’s taking some time off to sort out… er… our estate.”
“Oh,” Draco muttered, just as awkwardly. “Right… Sorry…”
Severus ran his fingers though his hair, wracking his brains for something to break the silence with. He’d always favouritised Draco – mostly because it rubbed Potter the wrong way – but also because he reminded him of himself at that age. He hadn’t been expecting anything close to sympathy though. He was just about to reply when McGonagall called for silence and announced that the Sorting was about to begin.
“See you in a bit.” Draco waved, and moved quickly over to the Slytherin table.
Severus nodded, feeling slightly foolish for befriending his own student. He jostled into a queue surrounded by exchange students, while the rest of the Great Hall settled down and listened to the Sorting Hat’s song with interest. It felt like a long time before all the first years were sorted, and he was just starting to feel restless and wonder whether he could sneak off somewhere until it was over when he realised there was nobody left in front of him.
“Snape, Severus,” McGonagall called.
A slight murmuring grew in the hall, as a few hundred faces turned to stare in his direction. He walked stiffly towards the battered hat, restraining a furious glare in response to all the whispers. He was just about to put on the hat when the Headmaster rose from his place.
“I would just like to welcome Severus Snape, nephew of our Potions Master at Hogwarts, Professor Snape…” (loud whistles from Slytherin, suspicious glances from all of the other houses), “…unfortunately Severus Junior’s parents have passed away, and Severus Senior had to depart temporarily to settle some business.”
The hall fell silent, not knowing how to react. Draco caught his eye and gave him a lazy nod. Snape stared glassily ahead, finding it hard to feel intimidating in this strange, awkward body with hundreds of eyes upon him. The Headmaster looked around shrewdly and resumed his seat. Severus gave one last glance around the room, before the hat fell over his eyes.
“Well, well, who have we here?”
Snape jerked involuntarily. It had been so long since he’d heard that voice.
“Not that long,” the Sorting Hat chuckled.
Save your comments, Snape growled mentally.
“What a temper! Phew, and I thought you had changed.”
Well, you thought wrong.
“Oh, I’m never wrong… You have changed, Master Snape.”
Yes, I’m not a Death Eater anymore, you useless rag.
“You weren’t a Death Eater when I last sorted you… No, no, it’s something else…”
Snape waited, annoyed and impatient.
“Aha! Why my dear Severus, I believe you have set yourself some boundaries!”
Snape swore under his breath. How long had he been sitting there?
“Patience, Severus, you are difficult to place…”
Just hurry up and put me in Slytherin, will you!
“Ah, so you want to be in Slytherin…?”
And what’s that supposed to mean? Snape interrupted.
“Events have changed you,” said the hat cheerfully. “The end does not justify the means anymore. As I said, you have set yourself boundaries.”
Look, I don’t know what you’re going on about…
“But you didn’t answer my question, Master Snape,” the hat interrupted.
Snape made an exasperated noise aloud. Yes, what is it?!
“Do you really want to be in Slytherin?” the hat said mildly.
Snape’s head whirled in confused annoyance. What? Why would you even – Of course I –
Severus Snape blinked at the sudden light. The entire school was staring at him open-mouthed. Forgetting his appearance, Severus gave them all his best glare. He started to walk stiffly to the Slytherin table when it struck him.
The hat’s bellowed choice echoed around whispers of the room, and Severus Snape spun around to face the long table decorated in scarlet. The look of horror upon his face was reflected in each of their faces. McGonagall had half risen and was staring at him incredulously; even Dumbledore’s eyebrows had risen quite high.
McGonagall quickly recovered from her shock. “Woodley, Philip,” she called.
Snape managed to regain control of his frozen legs and moved quickly and silently to the scarlet table and sat as far as he could away from everyone else. Pretending not to see the way Hagrid was giving him the thumbs up and beaming proudly at him, Snape looked instead over to the Slytherin table. He searched for Draco and saw that he was already staring at him, quite pointedly. When Snape caught his eye, the young Slytherin frowned and looked away. Snape’s feeling of numbness faded away as he glared down at his empty dinner plate. Picking up his knife, he started to hack at the table with it, his head whirling with anger and confusion once more.
The hat was obviously broken, or else playing a very poor joke. Or perhaps Dumbledore had tampered with it in his usual cruel and meddlesome way. How on earth was he supposed to keep up the I’m-not-Professor-Snape-I’m-his-nephew-who-is-nothing-like-him facade now? He’d be around Gryffindors all the time!
“Thank you, Professor McGonagall,” said Dumbledore, as the Sorting drew to an end. Gesturing down the table, he continued. “A warm welcome also to Professor Garwood, who will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts this year.”
A smiling witch rose to her feet and Snape glared at her in loathing. She looked to be barely his original age! What had qualified her over him?
A massive feast appeared magically before him, but it did nothing to appease his mood. Snape picked up his fork and started mashing his potatoes viciously, transferring his glare over the Gryffindors instead.
They seemed to be over their shock and were now throwing him suspicious looks. The Weasley twins were doing rather bad impressions of him mashing his potatoes while Neville Longbottom was laughing nervously. Harry and Ron seemed to be ignoring him but Hermione was staring at him curiously. Ginny Weasley, following Hermione’s stare, gave a shudder. Hermione noticed and nodded.
“Creepy, isn’t he?”
Ginny glanced at the new student again.
“Creepy is an understatement,” she replied, as Snape caught her eye and gave her a defiant scowl.
Snape sat in the Gryffindor common room, reading a book in the corner and waiting for everyone to go to bed. Whenever anyone had attempted to talk to him or get within several feet, he’d responded with an icy look, leading to a hasty retreat on their behalf. Even Fred and George Weasley had offered him only one of their Canary Creams to try, and half-heartedly at that. Snape was starting to regret not being friendly, for he was acting exactly like a suspicious Professor Snape in disguise.
Only two people were left now. Harry and Ron were playing wizard chess, while discussing Quidditch animatedly.
“Oh, come on, Harry! You’ll be perfect as team Captain! I bet that rat Malfoy’ll buy himself into the position on Slytherin team.”
“Y-yes,” the other boy said reluctantly, “but we still need a new Keeper.”
Ron leant back. “No problem, we’ll hold trials tomorrow,” he said easily.
Harry grinned at him. “You going to try out?”
Ron considered. “Nah, maybe next year I’ll try out for Chaser though…”
Harry looked slightly relieved. He wasn’t very keen on picking someone over his best friend.
Ron yawned. “We should go to bed.”
Harry glanced at the brooding new boy in the corner. “We haven’t finished our game!” he protested.
Ron grinned and whispered to his knight. A single piece moved to claim Harry’s queen. “Checkmate,” Ron said lazily, and headed up the stairs.
Harry frowned and followed reluctantly, shooting one last look at the new student’s back.
As soon as they were gone, Snape jumped from his chair and slid out of the portrait hole, much to the Fat Lady’s protest. A miniature ball of fur flung itself at his feet, and Snape scowled and kicked out. “Get away!”
The merry kitten danced nimbly away from his kicking feet, and continued to follow him as he descended down the corridor. Feeling restless and unsure exactly of why he was heading there, he started down to the Entrance Hall. He walked lightly, eyes catching every movement, ears tuned to every creak. Finding himself at the main doors, Snape slipped between them, the moonlight glinting off his dark hair as he prowled silently down the steps.
A slight rustling in the nearby bushes caused him to stiffen in shock. What on earth was he doing? It was as if he was struggling to restrain the uncontrollable urge to chase whatever had moved in those bushes!
It wasn’t until the sight of a graceful Oreo pouncing upon a cricket at his feet, that realisation finally dawned upon him.
This wasn’t the teenage energy of his new hormones; this was the cat.
It seemed so ridiculous to him that he almost laughed out loud. However he was finding it increasingly hard to resist chasing after the small kitten, and since he knew that there was no chance of him going to sleep in this state, he decided to sprint around the castle a few times to relieve his energy.
Severus started to run, with Oreo bounding closely at his heels.
The new Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor tossed and turned in her bed. It wasn’t as if it was uncomfortable; during her Auror training she had spent many a cold night camped out in a ditch. If anything the bed was too soft…or perhaps she was just restless.
Throwing the heavy quilt off, she reached for her sling. When a nasty curse had injured her wand arm, Albus Dumbledore had offered her a teaching job while it healed. She could still perform her standard spells, but not to her full power. Her boss had told her she could use the experience, even if it was with a bunch of delinquents. He Who Must Not Be Named didn’t seem to be back after all, despite the gossip column in Witch Weekly.
She was used to working long nights; perhaps a quick walk around the grounds would do her good.
It was chilly outside, and Professor Garwood was glad of her coat. She waited at the door for her eyes to become accustomed to the dark. A chill went up her spine as she heard running feet. You’re getting paranoid, she thought to herself, it’s probably just a misbehaving student. However she pulled out her wand and put on her best stern expression.
“Hi, you! Stop!” she called sternly, as she caught a glimpse of a dimly lit boy running.
Garwood frowned in annoyance, as the boy merely threw a look at her over his shoulder and quickened his pace.
“Accio broomstick!” she cried, running after him.
The boy was barely still in sight when an old school broom flew to her hand. “About time,” she grumbled, cursing her weakened abilities.
Although it was only an old Clean Sweep, a broomstick was still faster than a running boy and she soon caught up. To her surprise she heard regular breathing, instead of the usual panting of someone who had just sprinted a quarter mile. She ordered him to stop once more but the boy continued to run, a faint snigger marking that he’d heard her.
Garwood’s frown turned grim and she called for him to stop once more, before making a sudden grab for the back of his collar. Her hand slipped but she reached again, grasping thin air in surprise as he ducked neatly out of the way. Her determination mounting, Garwood swerved her broom around, trying to get in front of him. She made another wild grab but he dropped to the ground, rolled beneath her, and sprang nimbly to his feet, running on. She gaped at him. He was like a cat!
“Oh, I’ll get you, you little wretch,” she vowed to herself, though secretly enjoying the chase. She really should just end it but this was probably going to be the most exciting thing that happened to her this year so… “Whoa!”
Narrowly missing an old statue, Garwood jerked sideways. It was then that she realised that they were nearly back where they started.
Oh, hell! He was going to escape back into the castle!
With a resolute sigh, she reached into her coat pocket for her wand, only to discover that it was gone.
Her reluctance to end the chase dissolved into irritation, as she thought about having to poke around in the dark for it afterwards. Putting on a sudden burst of speed, she waited until she was right beside him when she leapt.
They fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. The Professor grappled with the boy’s collar grimly, as her captive tried just as stubbornly to wriggle away. His face was covered in darkness and all she could make out were his flashing eyes glaring at her. In the back of her mind she felt suddenly embarrassed at being in this sort of position with a student; especially as his robe was starting to become unfastened.
“Aha!” she yelled, finally getting a decent grip and startling the struggling boy. “Got you, you little…ARGH!”
She batted away the scratchy creature that had launched itself at her face, only to feel one last tug on the boy’s collar until it slackened. She leapt up and saw a nearly naked figure running into the castle doors, wearing nothing but bright green drawers. A small, black creature bounded furiously behind him.
Garwood sat down heavily on the damp grass. That little wretch.
Remembering the robe she was holding, she glanced at it in sudden glee. It was labelled!
Dashing closer to the castle lights, she read it eagerly. Her mouth dropped open and she gave a groan.
Neatly marked in purple ink was the name, ‘Albus Dumbledore’.
Severus Snape ran silently to his dormitory. He found his bed and all of his things arranged in the cupboard beside it. He rifled through his robes, noting with satisfaction that they had been slightly transfigured and shortened for his benefit. It felt odd wearing Dumbledore’s old ones and even though they were a lot fancier, he preferred his familiar black ones. He rifled through his robes once more and was relieved to see that none were missing.
Wait. That meant…
Snape’s thin lips twitched into a slight smile. He was positive she wouldn’t be able to identify him now, especially with that little puzzle.
Snape sniggered and tried to stifle a laugh. He felt elated. Perhaps these cat-like abilities would come in handy after all.
His thoughts turned to his pursuer. She was even worse than he’d expected; how stupid could she get? Perhaps the rumours going around the common room that evening were untrue. If she really was an Auror, she could have stunned him scores of times. It really was typical of Dumbledore, hiring a failed Auror over him. He probably did it so she wouldn’t burst into tears.
Snape sniggered once more. The thought of her standing on the wet grass holding a robe marked ‘Albus Dumbledore’ turned his snigger into a chortle. He was just about to laugh when the figure in the next bed sat up.
Snape cut his laugh short and swivelled in annoyance to look at the speaker. What was Potter doing, snooping around late at night?
“It’s Severus,” he replied shortly.
A dim light lit up Snape’s countenance. Ron Weasley gasped. “Where have you been?!” he demanded.
“Where has Potter been?!” Snape demanded back.
Ron glared at him furiously. “If you say anything, I swear I’ll…”
“Oh give up, Weasley, I don’t care,” cut in Snape annoyed. The effects of the chase were starting to kick in and he was feeling tired.
Ron stared at him dubiously. “D’you always sleep like that?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.
Snape looked down and saw he was wearing nothing but drawers. Then he looked at his feet. Bloody hell. His shoes. And they were covered in bits of wet grass.
“Aren’t you freezing?” exclaimed Ron.
Snape observed that the other boy was wearing a woolly, lumpy jersey underneath all his covers.
“No,” Snape replied truthfully. He was used to sleeping in the dungeons where it was icy cold for Merlin’s sake.
He moved out of the light, mentally sniggering, as Weasley hadn’t even noticed his shoes. Nothing more was said as the light went out. Snape quickly shoved his wet shoes into his cupboard and settled down to sleep. His ears pricked up at a sound and he sat up, looking around with his sharp eyes. Seeing no one, Snape settled down once more, briefly wondering where Oreo was, before he fell asleep.
As soon as he heard regular breathing, Harry Potter pulled off his invisibility cloak and stared curiously at Severus Snape’s sleeping figure.
A chink of light hit the dormitory floor, and a single boy opened one eye. Snape sat up fully awake, and started to dress. It was the crack of dawn and he was feeling fully refreshed and revitalised. He pulled on his usual pair of black robes and muttered a charm to clean his shoes. He gave an annoyed glance at a sleeping Harry Potter and started down the stairs. Plenty of time for a morning run before breakfast.
He poked at the tiny kitten in front of the common room fire, remembering the way it had scratched that Professor in the face. The kitten stretched and yawned, lazily swiping at his finger before jumping to follow her master’s ankles. Snape crept out of the portrait hole and padded down to the main entrance. Hearing no signs of Filch, he slipped outside the doors and ran headfirst into a solid wall of warmth.
“Sev! You’re up early this morning!” he heard a loud voice exclaim.
Snape edged away and looked up at the speaker. “I was wondering if you wanted help in the garden again, Hagrid?” Snape replied, somewhat truthfully.
The Gamekeeper beamed. “Actually, I was jus’ thinkin’ of askin’ yeh t’help me on a private project I’m workin’ on…”
Snape shrugged and smiled politely. Hagrid took that as a ‘yes’ and so, forgetting whatever business he had in the castle, he accompanied the restless boy back to his hut.
Snape ran his fingers through his hair and panted. What kind of a special project was this? All he was doing was shifting huge stones from one place to another! He voiced his opinion aloud and felt even more annoyed when Hagrid simply touched his nose and winked.
“Well, there’s not much time left now, but a nice stone wall ‘round the veggie patch should look good, eh?”
Snape muttered something in grumpy acquiescence and Hagrid chuckled in reply, hefting a boulder the size of a small first year over his shoulder. Snape’s look of irritation intensified. He had been trying to move that very stone for quite a while now.
Noticing his glare, Hagrid smiled. “Now, don’ look like that. You’re already stronger than most boys yer age.”
Snape gritted his teeth and threw his own boulder down indignantly. “I assure you, I was not…”
But at that moment the breakfast gong sounded, and Snape looked up at the sun in surprise. Had he really been working for two hours?
Hagrid looked disappointed, but then his face brightened as he looked back at his hut. “Now, how abou’ havin’ breakfast with me? I’ve got fifth year Gryffindors and Slytherins straigh’ after!”
Severus blanched. He had been introduced to Hagrid’s cooking over the holidays. But still, it would keep him away from those nosy Gryffindors.
“Er…all right,” Snape replied, accepting that it would be good for his image… His strained smile wavered however, when Hagrid beamed at him and slapped him on the back. He followed the half-giant into his hut annoyed and somewhat winded.
Sitting down by the empty fireplace, he picked uncomfortably at the splintery stool he was sitting upon and waited for Hagrid to finish by the stovetop. Fang trotted up and cast an adoring look at the kitten that had curled itself around Snape’s shoulders and neck. Oreo leapt down and swiped at the enormous boarhound with her tiny paws. Fang gave a yelp of excitement and attempted to do the same. The cat and dog bounded outside, a tumble of claws and fur.
Snape looked in disgust at the flecks of drool Fang had left upon him and stared out of the window gloomily. He could distinctly smell burning now and his robes were sticking to his body with a mixture of sweat, dirt, and canine drool. Despite popular belief, he hadn’t gone for this long without a shower before.
Snape made up his mind and stood up. There was barely enough time to run back to the castle, plus there was Hagrid to deal with…
The Quidditch showers! Of course!
“I shall be in the Quidditch change rooms if you need me, Hagrid,” Snape called curtly.
Hagrid looked over his shoulder at the uncomfortably sticky boy.
“All righ’! Here, yeh can eat this on the run, jus’ be back in time fer class!”
After shoving a plate piled with unidentified substances into Snape’s hands, Hagrid hurriedly turned back to his bubbling pot on the stove. Snape strongly suspected something had gotten out of control. He eyed the mass on his plate and gingerly tasted a tiny portion. It had a surprising taste, not bad, but then not very good either. He gobbled the rest down, mumbled a quick thanks and left the plate on his stool.
He ran outside the door and continued on to the Quidditch pitch, aware he had only half an hour until class. He ran past a gambolling Fang, and felt a familiar weight jump onto his shoulders and dig into his robes. Taking no notice of the tiny feline, Snape kept running and soon reached the building’s entrance. To his relief the room was deserted, and he slid quickly into the nearest shower stall.
Stopping to collect his thoughts, Snape started to feel rather foolish for hurrying. He pulled off his filthy clothing and shoes at a more leisured pace and had just started up the shower, when a faint explosion echoed throughout the room. Looking out of the tiny window above, Snape saw a pillar of smoke ascending from Hagrid’s kitchen window.
Snorting in amusement, Snape poked a grumpy stone gargoyle with his wand. It spat out shampoo reluctantly, and he continued his shower, trying not to laugh. The sound of approaching footsteps however, quickly changed his amusement to annoyance. Snape turned off the shower and spun around testily.
Standing in the doorway was Draco Malfoy.
Draco narrowed his eyes. “What’re you doing here?”
Although Snape had only a thin piece of wood covering his wet, naked body, and his hair was invisible under a fluffy cloud of shampoo, he still managed to maintain a dignified stance. “What does it look like?”
Wrinkling his nose, Draco went on, “Well you’re in trouble; I heard your precious McGonagall’s already taken points off you for coming in late last night.”
“Oh?” Snape replied coldly. How did anyone find out about that?
Draco glared at him. “Not like a Gryffindor is it?” he sneered.
If those words cut into him, Severus Snape made no sign. “Oh, and I suppose a Slytherin is going to lecture me on moral values?”
Draco gave a shout of anger and pulled out his wand. Snape felt surprised at this sudden outbreak. And Dumbledore thought he was wound tight.
Snape seized his wand from his bundled up robes with an equal flourish, as Draco advanced until he was only ten feet away. Their glares intensified, each one fighting furiously not to blink. Draco’s eyes were just starting to sting when a black ball of fur leapt straight at his face. Snape gave a snort of laughter as Draco swore, hitting out at the kitten in anger.
“That cat is mine,” Snape declared smugly, raising his wand. “Do not hurt it.”
In the midst of fur and claws, Draco caught a glimpse of the pointed wand and panicked. “St – STUPEFY!” his muffled voice cried, waving his wand wildly at the boy in the shower.
“Watch out!” a new voice squealed from the door.
The streak of scarlet light hit the shower-door’s mirror and headed straight back at Draco. Much to Oreo’s relief, Draco dived out of the way just in time. Both boys caught a brief flash of Ginny Weasley standing in the doorway before she was knocked backwards by the hex.
Draco and Snape whirled back at each other in accusing horror. “WHAT DID YOU DO?” they yelled in unison.
They continued to glare at each other, annoyed.
“This is all your fault!” Draco burst out angrily.
“Shut up and get her inside before anyone sees her!” Snape snapped. His fault? What cheek!
Draco clenched his fists and gave him one last glare before running out. Snape hastily rinsed himself off, muttering a cleaning charm on his clothes and shoes as he pulled them on furiously.
What the hell was that stupid girl doing here? She must have arrived while they were arguing – but why the hell had Draco over-reacted so grossly? And what in all hell was he thinking when he’d said what he did?
Snape burst out of the shower stall in anger, his mind replaying his earlier words. “Oh, and I suppose a Slytherin is going to lecture me on moral values.”
Snape gritted his teeth. Damn it all, he was starting to sound like James Potter himself.
His thoughts were interrupted as Draco came back with a limp Ginny in his arms. He dropped her on the floor in disgust.
“If only it was her stinking brother,” he muttered to himself.
Ginny’s eyes flew open and she jumped up and slapped Draco across the face. Snape jumped back, startled.
“I heard that!” she cried, out of breath.
Snape raised an eyebrow. “How did you…”
“LUCKY I had my wand out and managed to say a small shielding charm before you two ATTACKED me!” she snarled.
The two boys glared at her incredulously.
Ginny glared straight back at them, noting with satisfaction that Malfoy was holding his scarlet cheek with one hand.
Draco swore and turned bright red. “Weasley, I’m going to—”
“Say you’re sorry?” Ginny cut him off. “I don’t have time for half-arsed apologies, Malfoy.”
Draco turned from red to white.
“IF YOU THINK…” he began, but was interrupted again by Ginny.
“Oh, grow up,” she said coolly, and started to walk to lockers on the other side of the room.
Draco stood stock still, deep in shock. Snape however, wanted some answers. “What are you doing here? This is the male change room.”
Ginny reddened ever so slightly and fingered the chain of a small golden key in her palm. “Well, Harry got his broom fixed and they delivered it to his locker…” Her colour faded somewhat as she frowned back at Snape’s disapproving look. “What? I’m getting it for him. He’s in the hospital wing.”
“What’s Potter doing in the hospital wing?” countered Snape disbelievingly. “I saw him sleeping like a troll when I got up this morning.”
“Who cares?” interrupted Draco suddenly, seeming to recover from his shock to give Ginny a rather nasty smile. “So, Potter’s broom’s here, eh?”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed. “You—” she began as she turned, but stopped when she found Draco’s wand only a few inches from her face.
“Accio, key!” Draco cried.
Ginny gave a shout of alarm as the chain tugged from her wrist and Malfoy caught the golden key with a triumphant swipe. He whirled and raced for his rival’s locker, just managing to wrench it open when Ginny appeared directly at his elbow, furiously trying to shove him out of the way.
“GET OFF!” they yelled at the same moment, two pairs of hands thrusting forward to seize the broom.
Then suddenly, all noise stopped. Snape blinked and narrowed his eyes. He stared around the empty room, his gaze resting upon the empty locker, its door still ajar and swinging slightly.
They were gone.
Irrational panic started to rise in his chest. He fought it down furiously and forced himself to think clearly. A sudden pain convulsed through his left forearm.
The Dark Mark. Not now! Why was the Dark Lord calling him now?!
Then it struck him.
Potter’s broom. It must have been tampered with while it was being repaired. Someone had made it into a Portkey – but it was meant for Harry Potter. And this meant…
Snape swore out loud. He should go to Dumbledore, but there was no time. The Dark Lord would be furious. And he knew better than anyone what the Dark Lord did when he was furious…
Snape clenched his
jaw as he sprinted outside, entering the
It had been so long since he’d answered the call, and although it didn’t feel like long enough, he still knew the routine.
He tapped the mark once with his wand and muttered the word. A black cloak-like robe and hood wrapped itself around his body.
The outfit of a Death Eater.
Sickened by a surge of memories, Snape hesitated.
Just one more tap… One more tap and he would face the Dark Lord once more.
He pulled up the sleeve of his new outfit and raised his head to stare at the sky. But the glare of the sun caught his eyes, and instead of blue sky he saw a hazy image of Dumbledore peering back at him.
“Are you ready?” he heard it say.
Severus Snape narrowed his eyes.
“Yes, I am!” he thought defiantly, and drove his wand firmly to the mark.