Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
#14: Conflicted Resolution
[In which McGonagall and Snape discuss professional matters, as one teacher to another (who happens to be her ex-pupil).]
"And supposing I really had killed Dumbledore, on his own orders, what would you have felt about me then, I wonder?"
"I don't know" McGonagall admitted, frowning. "If I was convinced that you were telling the truth, then - I would not have blamed you, but I would have felt uncomfortable about being anywhere near you. The Wizengamot - I don't know. They are not famous for their fair-mindedness."
"If, in fact, he is dead, it will be because Precious Potter fed him poison - on the man's own orders. Will you keep your noble distance from him, too?"
"We all know how much you dislike Harry" the black-haired witch replied, and Lynsey thought to herself that that was no answer - and an answer in itself.
The professor sighed and frowned. "He's right, though, isn't he? The whole wizarding world, outside this room, thinks that I'm a traitor."
"People are - not sure what to think. Concerned. We all heard - "
"That's just lovely. The entire wizarding world thinks I'm a traitor and they all heard me scream for mercy and abase myself. I might as well cut my own throat right now - it would save time."
"You’re determined to be as difficult as possible about this."
"I wouldn't be me if I wasn't."
"It wasn't the entire wizarding world that heard you - being tortured, in any case: just the Order and, um, everybody from Hogwarts."
"Oh, God. How will I face any of them?"
"You seem to be all right around Lynsey, although I gather that she actually witnessed...."
"At the time, we were both too preoccupied with simple survival to worry about it."
"Add to this," Lynsey interjected, "that we were both of us as high as kites on adrenalin and sleep-deprivation and the knowledge of our own damn' cleverness."
"Huh. That, also. And that made some sort of, of understanding, which overcame - which meant I could function without thinking about what she must have felt after seeing me - hung up like a side of meat."
"Don't!" Lynsey said sharply, hearing his voice jerk and waver, and feeling his self-disgust cut her as deeply as he cut himself.
"Oh, God - you can't pretend it was a very - dignified position to be seen in." He had turned the colour of milk, and his throat was working as if he was going to throw up.
She took hold of his hand and squeezed until he met her eyes. "You probably don't want to know what it made me think - because flattery is always more embarrassing than insults."
"Flattery!" he exclaimed, bitter and amazed.
"Listen to me. It didn't make me recoil from you. You know the old stories, I know you know them, or you wouldn’t have known about Twrch Trywth. 'Oh tell us who is it laments within a house of stone://But Mabon, born of Modron's womb, within these walls alone.' The captive who has to be rescued from his chains is an honourable rôle in the old myths, you know that it is; and being freed, he moves on and up into the next phase, and becomes the king. And finding you that way, it made me see you as something infinitely precious - like a, a wonderful painting saved out of a burning house. There, now - I said it would embarrass you."
"I don't - know how to process that."
"There, now - and I'll embarrass you some more. What's dignity but a sop to insecurity? I saw you being clever and tough and brave, full of wit and wild ingenuity - and so much in command of the situation and of yourself that you started bossing me about within three minutes of being freed. Trying to boss me about, anyway."
"Never an easy task!"
"That's my lad."
"All right, but - other people, the other people who heard, they didn't see me making what I'll admit was a creditable attempt at guerrilla warfare. They just - heard me - degraded: howling for Lucius's non-existent mercy."
"If you're vindicated, it will only make them admire you more" McGonagall said gently. "Like the Longbottoms."
"If. How likely is that, do you suppose?"
"Well, I - I think that I do believe you're not a traitor, Severus - and a lot of people will be prepared just to take my word for it."
"Enough to keep me out of Azkaban, do you think, Minerva?"
"Well - probably. Your story is very plausible: even Potter believes you I think."
"Oh, that makes it all all right."
"Oh, lay off him, Severus. Why do you do this?"
"Why do I do what?"
"Bully your students. Insult them. Terrorize them."
"I don't know any other way to be."
"Nonsense. If you had no positive rôle models at home you could have based your teaching style on me or on Dumbledore - not turned into your own father."
"If you knew my father you would know that it is. I've never actually broken any of my students' bones - as tempting as that has sometimes seemed - although I did once come close to physically attacking Potter."
"Severus - that's a serious admission!"
"Do you think I don't know it? I frightened myself half to death - I really don't want to turn into my own father. But Potter brings out the worst in me. I do my best for him, despite my personal feelings, and it is constantly thrown back at me - right from the beginning, when I saved him from Quirrel, and then overheard him and the Weasley boy discussing how much they and everyone else hated me. Worse than that, he doesn't listen. So much danger pressing on him; so many hopes riding on him; and all he wants to do is run off and play the fool in the middle of a - of a war-zone."
"Trying to bully him sensible wasn't the answer though. Did it never occur to you to praise and encourage your students, instead of hectoring them?"
"No. I - I have no idea how that's done, what it would sound like. After all I have never been on the receiving end of much praise myself, have I? Don't come on so sanctimonious at me, Minerva - you may have marked me highly, when I was your student, but you seldom if ever gave me a personal word of encouragement - because I was a Slytherin. Only Slughorn… and I can't begin to imagine myself smarming around my students the way he does!"
"Heavens, no - that wouldn't suit you at all! But Harry - as much reason as you have to react badly to any reminder of James, so he has to react to adults who sneer at him. Every time you opened your mouth you must have reminded him of the Dursleys."
"I hadn't thought of it like that." He pushed his hair back with both hands, a fretful, habitual-looking gesture which Lynsey hadn't actually seen before: but when they had been running for their lives it had all been so much simpler. "God - how we cut each other, even when we don't mean to. But children - the children always seem to me like enemies."
"My own experience of children, when I was a child, was that they were a - a pack of jackals, waiting to close in on anything wounded. And trying to drum knowledge into their thick skulls certainly seems like a battle - and one I am almost always losing."
"And so you became what you yourself feared:" she said tartly - "the biggest jackal of the lot, preying on any child who was weak."
"Don't!" He covered his eyes with a white hand and Lynsey glowered at McGonagall, partisan and protective even though it sounded as if the woman had a point. "I am vitriolic to old and young, and to weak and strong, alike. You should know that - you've been on the receiving-end enough times. And at least I hunted alone."
"But one to one - or even one to many - are not fair odds when the one is so much older and more powerful."
"But I never felt that I was the one with power! If anything, I felt threatened by them...."
"You're a grown man, Severus - yet it seemed to me you could never make up your mind whether you thought yourself teacher or student, adult or child - "
"You and Dumbledore could never make up your minds whether I was your colleague or still your pupil, so why should I, uniquely, be certain of where I stood? Dressing in student-black and sleeping downstairs next to our common-room... as if I could somehow fit in now, when I never did then. Sniping at the children and calling names as if I was one of them, and then losing my nerve and pulling rank if they responded in kind.... When I was a child myself, children threw insults at me which I tried to take as a joke, although I knew they were serious; now I toss out insults which I mean as half a joke and they come out sounding as if I meant them. I can't make the connection, somehow - between them and me - between who I seem to be and who I mean to be - and the only way I know to deal with that isolation is to lash out. I do recognize my own faults, you know, and I know that a large part of me will always be that - sulky, jumpy fourteen-year-old boy. I just don't know what to do about it."
"Dreaming up ridiculous, puerile things-to-do-on-detention - I swear," said McGonagall, "sometimes I thought you were nearer four than fourteen, let alone almost forty."
"Thus speaks she who gets giggly and starts blowing kisses at people on two glasses of sherry."
"Yes, well. Anyway. Teaching doesn't have to be a confrontation: you can get them to come in with you, into the idea of knowledge, and then it's like climbing together towards a shared goal. But you - it's such a waste of talent, that's what annoys me the most. You have such a passion for your subjects, such a poetic tongue and flair for the dramatic when you want to have - you could be a great teacher, one who really inspired your students - one who carried them along with you. Why do you always choose to be so harsh towards them?"
"Perhaps because I could inspire them. Because I could have followers; disciples; young girls - and boys! - with crushes on me; children wanting to get close to me"
"Would that be so terrible?"
"For them, possibly. I'm a bird of ill omen, Minerva - no one should want to get close to me. I'm too dangerous to know."
"Nonsense" she replied bracingly. "At least, if it was true when you were playing your double game with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, it's not true now. In fact I could see you and Potter becoming firm friends - whilst still insulting each other cordially, as men do."
"What a revolting idea. And I would hardly consider Potter a man at this point... but he's right, isn't he?" He looked suddenly much younger, and wretchedly unhappy. "Perhaps this - public obloquy - is no more than I deserve. I am a traitor. I disobeyed Dumbledore - I was less obedient than Potter, in the end. I may have failed to save him, and even if I succeeded I destroyed his usefulness to the Order by forcing him into hiding to protect my cover. Then I failed to maintain my cover in any case, and so I destroyed my own usefulness to him and to the Order as well. All this because I did not trust him as much as Potter did."
"Enough with the self-pity already" Lynsey muttered, vaguely embarrassed.
McGonagall patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Even if - 'the old goat,' as you put it - has finally outsmarted himself, and whether or not you can still spy for us, you are still one of the Order's best assets, as well as - your personal value as a colleague and comrade."
"Comrade! There'll be no comrades for the man they all think killed Dumbledore - wait and see, Minerva."
"We'll tell them you obeyed him and killed him at his own instruction, and see where that takes us." She drummed her fingers irritably on the bedside table. "You know, I could hex Dumbledore for landing you in such a situation, with every man's hand against you - even those who have most cause to thank you, if they did but know it."
He made a dismissive, self-mocking little noise, raising his chin. "There was a level on which I was rather taken with the idea of myself as the solitary, tragically misunderstood hero, shunned by all but still nobly doing his duty. But the reality began to pall as soon as I realized there wasn't a living soul left that I dared talk to or share a drink with, and quite probably never would be ever again. I'm really going to miss Dumbledore, if he really is dead: aggravating old sod that he was in many ways, he represented about eighty-six percent of what passes for my social life."
"I suspect he probably will be back, in his own good time."
"I certainly hope so - he usually did have something up his sleeve."
"Five aces, an invisible rabbit and a blackjack, last time I looked. You, my dear lad, may be as twisted and devious as you are brave: but compared to Dumbledore you are the soul of simplicity." She smiled at him, grave and teasing. "You know why James Potter always hated you so, don't you?"
"Because I was there. Because I was poor, and a half-blood. Because I was - an ugly duckling who would never by any stretch of the imagination grow into a swan. Because I was - I'll admit it - a scratchy, irritating, graceless child with an unhealthy fascination for curses."
"You and half the teenage boys in paganism" Lynsey muttered under her breath, and he gave her a flicker of a smile. "Really. It's all 'No I will not supply a twelve-year-old with a staff suitable for cursing people' and 'No Lewis I will not teach you to be a necromancer; one, because you're thirteen and two, because you don't even know what it means.' And that's not even to mention 'No, I will not provide a thirteen-year-old with ginseng "to make girls horny."'"
Her professor actually laughed at that - a sharp and bitter sound. "I was never that precocious - but I was still singled out for punishment for something which seems to be almost universal. I, always, was to be pilloried for things which were thought to be - charming, boyish high-spirits when Fred and George bloody Weasley did the same. And I know why - because the red-headed Gryffindor twins looked like a comedy turn even when some of the things they were doing were truly vicious - and I had to pick up the pieces after some of the bloody cruel tricks they pulled on my students, remember - whereas the, the greasy, ugly loner from Slytherin just had to be a villain. Even when I was only messing around a bit."
"Because you were always better than him" said McGonagall. "Because no matter how hard he worked - and he did work, sometimes - you always got higher marks than him, at everything and I mean everything except Quidditch. I recall, if I was in a hurry, sometimes I used just to grade your essays Outstanding without even checking them - it saved time. You must have realized, he and Sirius chose their NEWT subjects on the basis of not doing anything you were doing?"
"I just assumed - that they despised me so much that they wouldn't even breathe the same air as me. I was just relieved not to have them on my back during class anymore, frankly."
"They wouldn't do anything you were doing because they couldn't handle being constantly outdone by you - so they effectively let you dictate their future career paths. James had great ability himself - yes, he did - but he never really valued his academic success. He convinced himself that Quidditch and interesting hair were all he needed in life, because he couldn't accept that coming second-best to a genius could still be a worthwhile goal, and Quidditch and looking like a fashion-plate were the only things he had a chance of besting you at."
"Yes, really. He wanted to make you feel small because you made him feel small, in every class and test and essay you ever took together."
"Hah. But if that's really true, then - if I had only known this at the time.... If you had told me...."
"I was much younger and less experienced, then, and you weren't in my house - I didn't, officially, have that degree of - pastoral responsibility for you. All teachers have their regrets, their private guilts...."
"Yes. And I was jealous of Harry and his friends, frankly. Am jealous of them. There was Potter, as unloved and nearly as neglected as I was myself at that age; Weasley, almost as threadbare; and Granger, potentially as able if she would only take her nose out of a book once in a while, and very nearly as socially inept - and even more officious, which I would hardly have believed possible. The chit is far too much like me for comfort: it's freakish enough to be confronted by a female version of oneself across a cauldron, but she reminds me of what I could have been, if - and yet somehow everything seemed to fall out right for them."
"Well, whatever you feel about Harry, you can see that he at least had the sense to team up with Hermione Granger, instead of persecuting her. He's far kinder and more mature than his father ever was."
"That or he has a far better eye to his own advantage. An improvement either way, I'll grant you."
"You're determined not to allow him any virtues, aren't you?"
"He looks too like his bloody father, and his eyes are too much like hers: the mere sight of him makes me feel hot and humiliated and eaten alive with guilt, and that's not a good frame of mind for being broad-minded in, believe me. When I had to teach him Occlumency I took the worst memories of his father and of the, the break-up with Lily out of my head, and then I could deal with him as a normal student, more or less. I still didn't like the brat, and his dislike of me was palpable - scalding, almost, especially to see it behind her eyes. But at least I could look at him without feeling ill, and tell him when I thought he'd done well - as seldom as that occurred. But I couldn't leave half my brain in a bowl for the entire seven years he was at Hogwarts: that way lies true madness, and I'm not quite that far gone yet. Today, in any case, I deserve a medal for my restraint."
"For not telling Potter that his godfather's death was his fault - because it was, yus kin. If he had been willing to learn what I had to teach him about Occlumency, the - He - wouldn't have known what mental strings to pluck to get them both to the Ministry. But then I suppose it was partly my fault as well, for failing to - inspire him." He rubbed at his temple with the heel of his hand as if his head hurt, looking at once listless and restless. "His father died for him, Minerva - he bloody-well died for him. His godfather, too, and Lily - Lily could have lived, she could have, but she gave her life to save him and yet he counts their sacrifice for so little, he takes it so much for bloody granted, that he's willing to throw his life away on a whim. I was lucky to survive my father. He used to threaten to drown me like an unwanted puppy - and I more than half thought he'd really do it some day."
"I did not realize at the time that your situation at home was - so oppressive. If I had known...."
"What? As you say, I wasn't your responsibility - and 'Nobody but a Slytherin ever cared about a Slytherin.' That's what we say in my house, and it's generally correct. Sometimes not even that, if you have the wrong bloodlines. To his credit Old Sluggy was prepared to overlook my origins and see only my abilities - but he did see only my abilities. My background was just something to be - glossed out of existence." He turned to look at her, his eyes sunken and bruised-looking. "You know Potter thinks himself some sort of a martyr - I saw it in his mind - because his uncle sometimes hit him if he was defiant? He has no bloody idea. He thinks he was so hard done by because his guardians ignored him: I prayed to be ignored, because being noticed just meant a whipping."
"Could your mother do nothing to protect you?"
"My mother is not an outstandingly pleasant woman either, and she never let me forget that she had had to marry my father because she was pregnant with me: but she sold what little either of them had to sell to send me to school, away from him."
"Ah. So it's your mother that you take after."
"I've never claimed to be even moderately pleasant."
"I meant that you can be viciously cruel with your tongue, but you will unhesitatingly put yourself in the way of physical harm to keep a child out of it. But surely - there's a fund to buy books and so on for poor scholars...?"
"The school gave me a grant. My father drank it. Hogwarts was hardly any better or safer than home anyway, thanks to James bloody Potter and that lot." He pushed his hair back again, irritably. "Home wasn't so bad once I started learning some real curses. He could see it in my eyes that if he pushed me too far there'd come a point where revenge would be worth getting expelled for, and then he was afraid of me. And I liked that - to make my enemy afraid of me. I thought if I was strong enough, vicious enough, I could make myself safe. But it never seemed to work out that way: it just got me more impressive enemies." He looked across at Lynsey with an odd gleam. "You've seen some of my enemies: what do you think?"
"I think you should accept the inevitable and learn to get a buzz out of danger."
"Yes - I thought it would be something like that." He frowned at McGonagall. "In point of fact, I detest teaching. And even if I enjoyed the act of teaching itself, which I do not, being Head of Slytherin in my position would still be an utterly miserable bloody thankless task - having to watch my students, my children to whom I am supposed to be in loco parentis, making the same stupid, deadly mistakes which I made, and being able to do precisely nothing about it, because if I tried to advize any of them against taking the Dark Mark, it would get back to Him in a few days and destroy my usefulness."
"Then - why do it? Why teach at all, if it makes you so unhappy?"
"It was a means of staying close to Dumbledore. My value to the Order depended on my being valuable to - Him, and He - Riddle - only valued me because He knew I was sticking to Dumbledore like a burr. Hence, teaching - which was nearly the last thing on earth I wanted to do. It was a devil's bargain Dumbledore made when he made me Head of House: he put me in charge of Slytherin so that I could spy on my own students and their parents, knowing - he must have known - that he was abandoning them to their fates by so doing, because I of all men could not be seen to try to influence them away from the Dark. And at that, the old bastard stuck me with teaching Potions, a subject hardly any child is interested in. At least in Defence Against the Dark Arts the little horrors pay attention to what I say."
"What would you have done...?"
"I could have been an Auror, like that fool Moody - only not like Moody."
"Poacher turned gamekeeper?"
"Who better? But I suppose I'm stuck with teaching now. I hate it, but I can 'teach them a lesson,' as the saying goes, and not just the sort that gets them through exams. I wasn't only being childish, Minerva, when I set them to perform messy, unpleasant tasks without magic - I wanted to show them that it's even possible to do things with your hands, not just waving a bloody wand. Everything is so perfect and so easy, isn't it, if you can just wave a bloody wand - you can do anything, and not have to worry about the consequences because every stupid, dangerous mistake is reversible - except when it suddenly isn't. And many of them, many of the oh-so-perfect bloody pure-bloods, had never 'got their hands dirty' in their entire bloody lives before, until I made them."
"That sounds a little - petty?"
"Oh, I don't deny I enjoyed seeing some hoity-toity pure-blood git pickling toad entrails bare-handed - but it's important, isn't it? It teaches them to value the labour of those who - who do all the unpleasant things which keep their little bubble of a world so clean and nice for them. In any case - I don't know any longer what else I might do apart from teaching, or where else I might go. Especially - now." He sighed and rubbed at his temples, frowning. "The first few years were the worst - when I was teaching students hardly younger than myself. I was twenty-one - and I know you started at twenty, but you were Dumbledore’s teaching assistant, with his authority behind you, whereas I was dropped in at the deep end to sink or swim. Some of the seventh years had actually seen me hung up by the heels, publicly stripped and forced to eat soap when they were in first-year, and even the ones who hadn't seen it knew somebody who had. And even the fifth and sixth years had all seen similar - incidents from my so-delightful schooldays. I think that every last bloody one of them called me Snivellus behind my back - to my face, sometimes. Do you have any idea what it was like, trying to keep order in those circumstances?"
"I wish you had come to Dumbledore or myself and told us what difficulties you were having. After all we'd both been teaching for longer than you'd been alive - longer than I'd been alive, in his case. I wish that you'd confided in me at the time."
"Whatever for, Minerva? If I tried to talk to Dumbledore about any difficulties I was having with work he hardly even bothered to look up, and as for coming to you - nobody helped me when I was being bullied: why would anybody help me with the aftermath? Is it any wonder that so many of my House go over to the Dark, when we are constantly shown that every man's hand is against us - when even attempted murder against a Slytherin is not treated as a crime?"
"The thing was, Dumbledore thought that Sirius had suffered some sort of mental breakdown as a result of the split from his mother."
"My heart bleeds for him."
"Oh but she was the most appalling woman - she could probably have given your father lessons, at least as far as verbal abuse went. You must have seen how her portrait at Grimmauld Place behaved."
"I wasn't exactly encouraged to linger and get to know the household: I was good enough to die or be - tortured for the Order, but God forbid I should actually socialize with them. God forbid I should sit and eat with you."
"There's some truth in that, I'm afraid. But you never made yourself especially pleasant to be with, and if you aren't pleasant to be with then people won't want to be with you."
"Did any of you ever make an effort to be pleasant to me? Except for Dumbledore - and even he clearly regarded me as expendable, since Black was never even formally punished for what he did to me."
"Mysterious as it sometimes seemed to the rest of us, so far as I know Dumbledore's regard for you never wavered. So you had no need to fear that Harry Potter was supplanting you as his favourite - and don't pull that face at me. I've known you since you were eleven. But Sirius - he had an absolutely horrendous home life, and Dumbledore knew it."
"Then that should have been a bond between us - not a cause for him to persecute me."
"I always did think the Marauders would have done better to ditch Pettigrew and recruit you - though for the sake of school discipline I should perhaps be glad they didn't. You had far more talent for creative mayhem, as I recall. But Sirius wasn't looking for another ally, especially one who might have outshone him: he was far too in love with James in any case, and all he wanted was something to hurt as he was being hurt. And Harry is quite right: Sirius came from a family environment where the strong hurting the weak was regarded as entirely normal."
"As did I!"
"Yes. But with the Blacks it was so... organized, so entrenched as the right way to be. He grew up with his mother chopping the heads off house-elves and hanging them on the wall, and while I do not know whether that sprang from cruelty or a warped sentimentality, it certainly showed that they saw them as mere animals. To some of that house, torture was a sport: I have no idea if Sirius ever suffered it himself but he'd certainly been raised to think it was normal, and when he tried to distance himself from that environment his mother screamed abuse at him pretty-much continuously. Dumbledore really thought that he was seriously mentally disturbed, and that that was why he attacked you: especially bearing in mind the... familial history of insanity."
"If he had told me this at the time then I might have been less disturbed."
"Dumbledore - I loved the man, but he could be so blind in some ways. He had no understanding… I may be almost twice your age, my lad, but he was nearly twice mine and I think he had forgotten what it was to be young. His father's family were pure-blood, purest of pure, in an age when that meant real authority, and he himself was born both brilliant and powerful. So very powerful. He could understand the - mania that's in the old families, but he couldn't comprehend or empathize with what it would feel like to be powerless, friendless, unsure."
"And you do?"
"Oh God aye. Better than him, anyway. So, it truly wouldn't have bothered him if somebody had tried to kill him, so long as they failed - so he didn't understand why it bothered you. It was a compliment if you want to see it that way: he expected you, and Harry for that matter, to be as indestructibly self-confident and nerveless as he was: but the result was that he mismanaged both of you horrendously. And you're right - it was very wrong of him to gloss over the incident without even discussing it properly with you. But keeping his own council was always Dumbledore's besetting sin - and if he had made any sort of public fuss over Sirius's behaviour, the Board would have insisted that Sirius be expelled. Dumbledore didn't want to take Hogwarts away from him when he had just lost his family as well: and I imagine he was afraid that if Sirius were to be totally cut loose like that he might have fallen under the influence of the Death Eaters."
"Instead of which, he allowed me to do so."
"Possibly he had more faith in your strength of character than in Sirius's."
"If either of you had ever given me the slightest encouragement to do so I would have confided in you, then or earlier, but neither of you ever did. Instead, Dumbledore let the Marauders drive me to Lucius Malfoy's tender mercies - and you were both so innocent or so blind you didn't even wonder what kind of interest a boy like Lucius might have in a child five years his junior. Black wondered - but he thought it was a great joke. Even as an adult, he still boasted about what he had done to me - his only regret seemed to be that he hadn't succeeded."
"Yes, well - even before he spent twelve years having his soul shredded by the Dementors, Sirius was deeply childish and vain. If he knew he'd done a, a wicked thing he could never admit it, even to himself: he'd have to persuade himself that he'd been justified. He would never have had the courage and maturity to do what you did, go to Dumbledore and say 'I've done something very bad: help me to put it right.' But James - you do James a disservice if you think that he saved you only to save himself from trouble. He really did realize at that point, I think, the enormity of having tried to kill a fellow student."
"But making a fellow student's life hell on earth for seven years was acceptable, I suppose."
"Oh, James hadn't the imagination of an earywig. He'd always been popular, a crowd-pleaser - and like Dumbledore he couldn't visualize what it would feel like to be isolated and hounded. But even he could see that being torn limb from limb would be bad."
"Is that really true - that James Potter hated me because he thought I was better than him?"
"He and Sirius both. Sirius to his credit did try hard to break free of his family's racial prejudices, and he thought he could deal with a half-blood besting him: but he couldn't I think deal with being outshone by a half-blood who was so obviously...."
"From the wrong side of the track."
"Quite. Add to this, of course, that James was fantastically jealous of another boy even looking at Lily Evans, let alone being madly in love with her."
"Was I so obvious as all that?"
"You don't know by now that the teaching staff notice who fancies whom? Every time she so much as glanced at you you looked like a whippet with colic: it was obvious the friendship wasn't just platonic, at least on your side. Even though you weren't one of my house-students, I always thought she showed poor taste in preferring James over you - to be honest."
"I insulted her" he said shortly. "She tried to protect me from James's bullying when I had wanted to look - sophisticated, or some such rubbish, in front of her, and because I was angry and humiliated I insulted her so badly that she never looked at me again. I wasn't willing to be anybody's charity-case - not even hers - and so I offended her so badly that it still haunts me. All because I was a bloody fool - as per bloody usual. Truth to tell, I'm not sure I'm ready to play with the grownups."
Lynsey shrugged. "Oh, who is? I think after about eighteen everybody is pretty-much winging it."
"But I was - winging it - even as a child I think. Floundering about making a bloody fool of myself."
"Fool or not, my lad," said McGonagall, "whatever happens tomorrow I will, I think, stake my reputation on you - literally. You deserve better than a prison-cell."
"Thank you - but I fear most people will agree with Alastor and think I deserve far worse."
"Would you be willing to take Veritaserum, to convince the Ministry of your innocence?"
"For a given value of 'innocent.' Yes, if you think it would help - but only in front of a few selected witnesses. Shacklebolt and Weasley perhaps. If I can convince them, and they can convince the Ministry that I acted on Dumbledore's orders, well and good: but I cannot have the fact that I may not actually have killed him broadcast to the entire Ministry. You know as well as I do that not everyone in the Ministry is to be trusted."
"They won't like you setting conditions like that - and if Shacklebolt can't sway them, you could end up in Azkaban for years - for life."
"If the fact that I tried not to kill Dumbledore reaches Bellatrix's delicate little ear I'm dead anyway: though that might be preferable to a lifetime behind bars. Unless - it's possible that if Dumbledore came very close to death, if Horace Slughorn revived him from the brink of death, that might count as my having fulfilled my Vow. The Unbreakable Vow is a very old spell, and advances in modern medical magic have somewhat - altered the definition of death in recent years. Or it may be, if - He told Draco to remove Dumbledore, rather than specifically to kill him, then... but this is mere speculation."
"Suppose Dumbledore came forwards - if he's alive to come forwards - and said that you had killed him, on his own orders, but that he had somehow cheated death and returned? People will believe almost anything of Dumbledore I find - and would that not let you off the hook with both Bellatrix and the Ministry?"
"I suppose it might, at that - but in any case, if Dumbledore is still alive I can't risk having that become public knowledge at this point. That would endanger him, and disrupt any plans he may have for a strategic reappearance - quite aside from the potential danger to myself. What am I going to say under Veritaserum anyway? 'Did you kill Dumbledore?' 'I hope not.' 'Were you acting under Dumbledore's orders?' 'No, I ignored his orders and did my own thing.' It's going to be a fiasco, any way you look at it."
"If the worst comes to the worst - the Dementors are no longer at Azkaban, so if Dumbledore were to come forward to speak for you later...."
"I would probably still be sane enough to be worth saving - if I ever was. And always assuming" he said, with a light, tight voice and a wry curl to his thin lips, "that the old goat bounced when I dropped him."
"Veritas," Lynsey thought, sitting listening to them. "Vicious; vindictive; vitriolic; venomous; violent; vile; vituperative; vain. Virtuous; vulnerable; valiant." If he went into prison, she would try to do for him as she had done for others, pool her psychological state with his, and endeavour to pull him out of his personal darkness until she went mad with it. She thought that however this turned out for him, the epitaph on his tombstone should be "Here lies a brave and bitter man, whose life was without refuge of any kind." But she could only imagine his chagrin if she were to say out loud something so sentimental.
The Mabon - the youth who is stolen from his mother and imprisoned in a terrible prison from which he has to be rescued by the warrior-king - occurs in several guises in the Mabinogion and several other Welsh/Arthurian myths. The well-known (if slightly populist) Celtic scholars John and Caitlin Matthews believe that there is a male Celtic trinity of Youth, King and Sage, to go with the female one of Maiden, Mother and Crone, and that when the Mabon is rescued he becomes the king, and the king moves on and becomes the sage. In this case Dumbledore, the former king, has become a shadowy background figure; Snape, having been rescued, will assume greater power within the Order in Dumbledore's absence and become the new king; and Draco is now the youth who may need to be rescued.
Snape is of course being slightly less than 100% honest when he tells McGonagall he only nearly physically attacked Harry.
Things up Dumbledore's sleeve - five aces, an invisible rabbit (called Harvey) and a blackjack (which may be an actual playing-card, and the most vicious card in the deck in the game British Black Jack - or it may be a type of cosh).
Lewis the thirteen-year-old would-be necromancer asked especially to be mentioned by name....
I know Lupin told Harry that his dad was the best at everything - but much of what Lupin told Harry we know to be highly slanted, and James Potter doesn't come across as a very academically-minded type, even if he had ability. He may have been good at everything that counted socially - but in a British school that just means sport, sport and sport. And we've seen that Lily and Severus were the two great Potions stars in their year, and that Slughorn's measure of how good someone might be in Potions is "Even Severus…" which implies Snape was probably the best pupil he ever had - so we know for a fact that James wasn't the best at everything.
We see that Snape is not only brilliant at Potions - a precise, controlled science, even if there's also an element of art in it - but is also very good at the fluid, spur-of-the-moment, improvisational Defence Against the Dark Arts. This tells us that his abilities cover a very broad spectrum. We've also seen that he's an able fighter and a consummate actor, and that his magical skills are highly original and personal, not just rote-learned - since he invents his own hexes. He's also good at lateral thinking - since he was the one who originally came up with the idea of just using a bezoar, instead of brewing complex specific antidotes. Altogether, it seems unlikely that James and Sirius could have bested him in class very often, if ever - and that if James got the top marks in his subjects he did it by side-stepping young Severus altogether, and taking different classes.
"Yus kin" is a north Derbyshire expression. Literally, it means "You are kin to me:" metaphorically it means "You understand what I'm saying." I am assuming that Snape, being sleepy and slightly drugged, might accidentally slide back into the dialect of his childhood. "Earywig" isn't a typo - it's an attempt at a particular Scots linguistic oddity sometimes known as Scottish Ellum Disease.
Evidence from OotP, and from JK Rowling's statements at interview, suggested that Snape was probably born in 1959 or 1958; but since we know (from JK's website) that he was born in January, and that he was in the same academic year as the Marauders, and Deathly Hallows has definitely established that James was born in March 1960, we must conclude that Snape was born in January 1960 (and that Harry was wrong when he thought, in April 1996, that the bullying incident which he had seen in the Pensieve, and which happened in the June that Snape was sixteen, had been more than twenty years ago).
We know from what he tells Umbridge that Snape started teaching at Hogwarts in 1981 (just before Harry's parents were killed), at which point he would have been twenty-one. That means that he was only four years older than the first lot of seventh years he taught, and when he started teaching the fifth, sixth and seventh years had all actually been students with him, and would have been respectively first, second and third years when he was in seventh year.
It is ambiguous in the book whether the audience for his humiliation by the Marauders consisted only of students who had just come out from exams or whether the junior years were also around - but since exams in British schools tend to finish at lunchtime it is quite likely that pupils of all ages witnessed the incident. The students who were first years when he was a fifth year - and who may well have watched his humiliation - were seventh years when he started teaching.
Lucius incidentally was forty-one when he spoke to the Prophet in mid September 1995, so he was born somewhere between mid September 1953 and mid September 1954. The most he could have overlapped Snape by at school is two years, and that only if he was born in early September 1954. Since their connection was well-known enough for Sirius to call Snape Lucius's lapdog, I'm assuming they did overlap by two years.
JK Rowling said in interviews that she saw Dumbledore as about a hundred and fifty, but that doesn't fit what we're told in Deathly Hallows. In summer 1997 the Weasleys' Aunt Muriel, who is supposed to be a hundred and seven, says that she remembers the death of Albus's sister Ariana, which we know occurred when Albus was eighteen. She was old enough to be aware that she hadn't been aware Albus even had a sister, so she must have been at least five. So Albus would have been born no earlier than circa 1877, and been no more than about a hundred and twenty when he died.
This chapter has been adjusted to fit with the new canon backstory revealed in Deathly Hallows. Apart from having Snape and McGonagall refer to "Dumbledore" rather than "Albus", it's been adapted to have Snape put more emphasis on Lily's sacrifice than on James's, and to mention the fact that Harry has his mother's eyes as well as his father's face. Snape has been made a year younger, so that his first lot of seventh years had been at school with him when he was stripped. Dumbledore's "affection" has been changed to "regard" and there is a mention of Snape having tried to get pastoral/managerial support from Dumbledore and got none, as we saw in DH. Minerva is now aware that he and Lily were friends, as well as him fancying her madly.
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