?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
14 December 2012 @ 06:35 am
Fic: Things Left Unsaid for igrockspock  
Title: Things Left Unsaid
Author: ???
A gift for: igrockspock
Rating: G
Length: ~6,000 words
Character(s): Snape, Hogwarts, assorted staff, students, Death Eaters (7th year)
Warnings: brief use of Crucio; angst
Author's Note 1: Thanks to igrockspock for so many great prompts! I actually wrote half of three of them before settling on this one (Anything about Snape's tenure as headmaster, especially how he goes about protecting students without revealing his true loyalties), so the others may turn up somewhere eventually. I hope it pleases.
Author's Note 2: Professor Trelawney's reading of the Moon card is taken from the American Tarot Association, http://www.ata-tarot.com/resource/cards/maj18.html. Professor Flitwick's words about small things are a quote from Mother Teresa.

****

The castle knew more things than most people could have imagined. Oldest of all the Wizarding schools, its wards more powerful, its experience broader and deeper, it had developed a character of its own. The four wizards who designed it, crafted it, built it, warded it did not intend this, but magic interacts in unpredictable ways and the tendrils of power that twined through the stones, from the deepest dungeon to the tip of the Astronomy Tower, knotted and wove their way first into awareness, then thought, then will, and finally love.

****

Headmaster Severus Snape stalked the halls of Hogwarts, the thoughts swirling in his mind as black as the robes swirling around his calves. The Yule decorations – evergreen, holly, candles, mistletoe – were more subdued than in years past, but their sparkle and brilliance still seemed to mock him. Two days until Yule and he had never in his life felt less like celebrating.

Part of his irritation stemmed from the fact that more students than usual had stayed at Hogwarts over the Yule break, meaning that the peace and quiet he had hoped for had not materialized as expected. Curiously, the students who remained came from families of all backgrounds and opinions, including some whose parents were known "rebels." Those parents who supported the Dark Lord, Severus assumed, were happy to have their offspring at such a prestigious school and under the watchful eye of his right-hand man, while those who feared him possibly thought to curry favor by leaving their children in his charge. But what of those who opposed He Who Must Not Be Named? Perhaps, he thought, they preferred to have their sons and daughters as far as possible from any retaliation that might descend on them.

The hallway was long, featureless, devoid of doors or windows. As he approached the cross-corridor at the end of the hall he heard running footsteps, and seconds later two girls wearing scarves in Ravenclaw colours rounded the corner and nearly ran him down. They squeaked in startled surprise and stumbled to a halt, faces pale and drawn, staring at him in shock and fear.

The voice of Amycus Carrow floated down the corridor, and the girls clutched each others' arms for comfort, terror plain in their eyes. "Now how many rules is this broken, my dears?" His voice held a tone of gloating anticipation – of what, Severus carefully refused to think. "Out after hours, wearing House colors outside the common room, insolence—oh, you're in deep trouble, my little ones..."

Severus hissed in annoyance. How far behind them was Carrow? Had he time? The girls had turned to look back the way they had come, paralyzed at being caught between Voldemort's Headmaster and one of his chief torturers. Severus closed his eyes, laid a hand on the stone wall to his left and muttered, "Succurre."

Not sight, or touch, or hearing, but something more and deeper than all of those, told him that the faintest alteration had taken place in the space around him, but not until he had stepped forward, past the girls, did he open his eyes. He did not turn when he heard behind him a creak as of a door opening, a stifled gasp, a scuffle of footsteps.

Amycus Carrow strolled around the corner, his pale face flushed with false joviality. "Well, my dears..." He broke off at the sight of Severus. "Headmaster."

Severus inclined his head the tiniest fraction. How hard it was to pretend not to hate, he thought. Almost as hard as pretending not to love.

Carrow's eyes narrowed at the brusque dismissal. He leaned to one side to look past Severus. "Where are they?" he said, his voice equal parts anger and confusion.

Severus glanced at the empty stone corridor that stretched for twenty yards or more behind him. He turned back to Carrow, one elegant eyebrow raised in polite inquiry. "Where are who, Amycus?"

"Those girls!" His eyes darted about, scanning the hallway for some hidden passageway or tapestry behind which they might be hidden but finding nothing.

"I have seen no students." Which was true, in a sense. There were no students at Hogwarts now, only prisoners.

"You must have done, they must have run right into you!" the man spluttered.

"Surely you must be mistaken."

"I am not—"

"I'm certain that you and Alecto are more than capable of maintaining order among our students," he went on smoothly over the squat little man's protests. "I would hate to have to inform the Dark Lord that your efforts are...inadequate."

"You wouldn't dare," Carrow spat. "You may be the Dark Lord's fair-haired boy – so to speak – but don't make the mistake of thinking you're untouchable."

Severus took a step forward, so close they were almost touching, and glared down his (considerable) nose at the lumpy little man. "Just...you...try it," he hissed, his eyes slits of midnight.

Carrow hesitated, but Snape's utter confidence disarmed him and with a scowl he turned and slouched off down the hallway.

Severus watched until the man was safely out of sight, then slumped against the wall, permitting himself a rare moment of weakness. Was it his imagination that a faint sense of comfort seeped out of the cold stone? It didn't matter. Hogwarts had answered again, two more students had been saved from a probable Crucio, and that was all that mattered.

***

Severus' first weeks as Headmaster had been...difficult. No, they had been well-nigh unbearable, even hellish. Not only was he faced with daily reminders of the man he had killed each time he entered the Headmaster's office (where he still felt like an impostor), but the very stones of the castle seemed to conspire against him. Stairways sent him to blank walls; doors opened onto rooms he had just left; pedestals supporting suits of armor tilted inexplicably, spilling their contents into his path, their clanging cacophony worsening the headache that never seemed to leave him these days. Eventually he discovered that the castle was less inclined to interfere with him when he was with a student, so he took to snaring the nearest first year to accompany him wherever he was going.

One of his first acts as Headmaster, like others before him, had been to update the castle's wards to incorporate his own signature and bind them to him. He had feared, as he raised his wand to begin the ritual, that Hogwarts itself might reject him – the castle's wards were ancient and had become, over time, more than the sum of their parts. He was not sure that he could have borne that, to have the only place he had called "home" turn against him, but in the end it had allowed him to complete the binding. Minerva, Filius, Horace and Pomona, as Heads of their respective Houses, had assisted, and he suspected that their participation was the only reason he had succeeded.

No, to be honest, he suspected that it was solely due to Minerva. Her anger had been banked but still palpable, emanating from her like smoke from a smoldering fire. She had not forgiven him for Dumbledore's death, of course, but he wondered if some of that rage was directed at herself for believing the old wizard and therefore failing to recognize Severus as a threat. Her righteous fury had been in such contrast to the sickness of heart that had gripped him. He wondered if it had shown on his face. Ironic, really, that she held her wrath so tightly in check when all he really wanted was to drop his wand in exhaustion and let her blast him where he stood...

But generations of Scottish ancestors had made Minerva an eminently practical woman. No doubt she assumed that anyone else the Dark Lord might install as Headmaster would be far, far worse than the Dungeon Bat. And perhaps she thought that, as a former colleague, he might be amenable to persuasion in certain areas, whereas someone like the Carrows most certainly would not. So she had agreed to perform the ritual, and as Deputy Headmaster her decision had carried the other three Heads of House along with her.

Nevertheless, and despite his binding of the wards, Hogwarts continued to oppose him, subtly, cleverly, quietly. The castle seemed to carry a personal grudge against Snape for the murder of his predecessor; it took a grim delight in making his life as difficult as possible in a myriad of minor ways that wore him down more than outright attack. Perhaps the most vexing was that no matter how hot the pot of tea the house elves brought him each morning, it was stone cold the minute he poured a cup.

He could still pinpoint the moment that it all changed, and his life became marginally more bearable.

***

Late one mid-October night, a dark, muggy, sullen evening of rain and lowering clouds, Severus had climbed the stairs to the Astronomy Tower in hopes of finding a stray breeze. He knew the place would bring back evil memories, but it was the highest part of the castle and the most likely to have air moving – and since the memories never left him, it hardly seemed to matter. Getting there took twice as long as it should have, what with having to backtrack three times when the castle led him into dead ends, but at last he emerged into the open space, criss-crossed by wooden beams, just beneath the top of the tower. As he approached the last flight of stairs he paused, his attention caught by sounds coming from above: low voices, stifled laughter, and faint cries of pain. He took the last ten steps in a rush.

Three of Carrow's "assistants" – two sixth-year Slytherins and a third-year Ravenclaw – were hunched in a tight circle and raised startled faces as he burst into their midst. The object of their attention, a house-elf, lay twitching and shrieking on the floor in the throes of a Cruciatus curse.

Severus' gut twisted in a spasm of nausea at the sight. "Finite incantatum," he barked, and the elf collapsed gasping into a limp heap. He rounded on the three young men. "Fools! What do you think you're doing?"

There was long moment of silence. "Homework?" one of them ventured finally.

"Homework," he repeated flatly. "For whom?"

"Professor Carrow," the Ravenclaw said. "We're supposed to practice Crucio."

Here, of all places, Severus thought. Not two feet from where Dumbledore had died, as part of a war to stop such sickness. "And did Professor Carrow instruct you to practice on house-elves?" he inquired icily. "Surely he would not be so foolish."

They exchanged glances, obviously torn between protecting themselves by claiming a non-existent permission and having Carrow learn that they'd made him look incompetent. "Er, no," one of them said finally. "We were s'posed to practice on mice and rats and such like."

"Precisely. And yet you chose to...overstep your instructions." He moved closer, making himself as black and imposing as possible. "Do you realize what you might have done?"

The Ravenclaw stood up. "Well, it's only a house-elf, isn't it?" he said. "What difference does it make to you?"

Trust the Ravenclaw to be the suspicious one, Snape thought. Well, Carrow tended to choose his acolytes less for their intelligence than their ability to follow orders; he would have to hope that that was the case here. Even Ravenclaws had their weak spot. "Fifty points from Ravenclaw."

The young man's face flushed. "What for?" he challenged.

"Clearly your...extensive knowledge somehow overlooked the fact that the house-elf binding is not, in fact, unbreakable," Snape said, his voice dripping with contempt. "Repeated use of one of the Unforgivable Curses on a house-elf eventually negates the bond and renders the elf free." From the corner of his eye he could see the baseball-sized eyes of the elf staring at him, its mouth gaping open at this bald-faced lie. "Would you want to be the one responsible for a freed Hogwarts house-elf carrying information to those who would oppose the Dark Lord?" he asked softly, his voice a silky purr. "Perhaps even...thwarting one of his plans?"

The Ravenclaw looked positively green, his two companions not much better. "I...I didn't know. Sir," he managed.

"Obviously," Snape said, lingering over every syllable. "Fifty points from Slytherin as well, for not preventing idiocy in your fellow student. Now get out, and don't let me catch you putting the Dark Lord's plans at risk again."

In a scramble and tangle of robes the three students were gone, clattering down the stairs, leaving Severus Snape face to face with a trembling house-elf.

The elf stared at him for a long moment; clearly it was very weak. "The Headmaster is telling lies," the elf said at last. Its voice was hoarse, and Severus wondered how long it had been screaming before he arrived. "Gibby heard him."

Severus shrugged. "There are so many lies in the world, what is one more?"

The elf got slowly to its feet, moving as if its joints were packed with bits of broken glass, and came closer to peer at him. "The Headmaster is telling lies to...to protect Gibby."

Snape looked away. "Don't be ridiculous."

The house-elf nodded once, sharply. "Gibby will not be ridiculous. Gibby will be silent. But some things will know." With a crack it vanished, leaving Snape wondering if he had just undone fifteen years of seamless duplicity.

His return from the Astronomy Tower was singularly quick and uneventful: not a single dead end hallway, not one dropped gauntlet, not a staircase out of alignment.

***

Two days later Severus left the morning staff meeting, his head pounding with the effort of trying to care about details of the Halloween feast, and withstanding two hours of thinly-veiled scorn and disgust from his colleagues. Worst of all was Minerva's mask of icy, impersonal courtesy. The respect, if not the affection, of his colleagues was the one thing Severus had valued. At least the curious quiescence of the castle that had begun the night he stopped Gibby's torture had continued, a fact for which he was particularly grateful this morning. It was amazing how much a cup of really hot tea could lift one's spirits, even in such dire straits.

He had received a note that a book he had requested from the Bibliotheque National had arrived on loan, so he turned his steps to the library. Madam Pince was not at her desk, so while he waited for her to return he went to browse the Potions section. He had not been in the stacks for more than a few minutes when, through the gap between the third and fourth shelves, he caught a glimpse of bright pink sweater and heard a woman's voice.

"You're better off with her out of your life, and so is your family," the woman said in a patronizing tone. "Don't you realize you'll never get ahead if you associate with such people?"

Tilting his head slightly to get a better look, Severus recognized the permanently irritated profile of Mabel Gudgeon, one of Umbridge's protégés; the student she was berating was hidden behind her bulky form. He moved a little further along the aisle to gain a view of the object of her attention. It was Susan Bones.

The girl's face was streaked with tears but rebellious fury was plain in every line of her face. "She wasn't such people. She was my mother's sister. My aunt."

"Your aunt Amelia was nothing less than traitor, foolish girl." Gudgeon's voice rose in impatience. Three First Years at a nearby table glanced up at the disturbance and then, seeing Gudgeon, hastily returned their attention to their books. "You'd be wise to hope that everyone forgets she ever existed."

Severus recognized her technique: it had become a favorite sport of the Carrows and their crew to bait students (particularly Muggle-borns and those known to sympathize with Dumbledore and the Order) until they lashed out, and then punish them out of all proportion.

"She was not a traitor," Susan said in a low, intense voice. Severus could see the girl's control fraying; any moment she would snap and Merlin know what would happen then. The Bones family were renowned for their spirit and their highly creative curses; if Susan attacked a teacher her punishment would be swift and severe. But he couldn't interfere directly, he had to stay utterly beyond suspicion... Quiet, girl!, he thought fiercely, as if he could project it into her mind. Let it go, it's just words...

"She most certainly was, a filthy deviant Muggle-loving traitor," Gudgeon responded smugly. "You should be ashamed that your family produced such an aberration."

Susan took a step back, her hand hovering over the wand tucked in her belt.

"Threatening me, are you?" Gudgeon sounded delighted. "Perhaps a session with the Dementors would show you the error of your ways."

Snape's mind raced. How could he stop her before the fool child got herself killed? Obliviate? No, it left traces, and there might be enough to lift his signature, not to mention the students would notice if Gudgeon suddenly ceased her harangue and walked out with a vacant expression on her face. Imperius? He wasn't close enough for a clear shot, and anyway he'd have to speak aloud to give her orders. Pretending to survey the titles in front of him, he slid his gaze from side to side: he was in clear view of at least six students, he could do nothing without being seen.

Desperate, moved by some unknown instinct, he laid both hands on the spines of the books in front of him, closed his eyes, and whispered, "Succurre. Help her."

He felt a gathering of tension, as though the air were a rubber band being stretched... then the tension snapped with an almost audible twang, and the floor of the Library trembled beneath him. He heard a startled babble of voices from all corners of the library, and a muffled shriek from Gudgeon. Stepping out of the Potions section he saw that she had fallen to the ground and a tapestry, its rod evidently loosened by the vibrations, had fallen on top of her. The Bones chit, clever girl, had seized the moment and was disappearing out the door even as he watched.

Later, he pondered what had happened but could reach no conclusion. Something had certainly answered his plea, though he knew of nothing powerful enough to literally shake the foundations of the castle. But it hadn't been the whole castle, had it? Just that little space of floor. It was almost as if Hogwarts had...twitched, like a horse twitching its skin to rid itself of a fly.

***

The next day proved that, whatever it was, it had not been a fluke. At first Severus thought that the two figures in the dark corner of the long gallery were simply sharing a romantic moment; he found he was actually looking forward to reprimanding someone for something so comparatively innocent, for a change. As he drew level with them, however, he realized that the figure with its back to him was Alecto Carrow. Pressed against the wall in front of her, as though hoping he could disappear into it, was a seventh-year Hufflepuff. His hair was mussed and his shirt half-undone.

Severus paused. "Is there a problem, Alecto?"

The young man opened his mouth as if to speak and took a half-step forward, but Alecto put a hand on his chest and pushed him back. "Why, no, Headmaster," she said sweetly. "Mr Finch-Fletchley and I were just getting to know each other a little better. Weren't we, lovey?" She dropped her hand to his belt buckle.

Justin shot Severus a desperate glance which the Headmaster met impassively, though his stomach was churning in disgust. "Do return him to his common room when you're finished, Alecto. I don't want to be waked up by Filch yammering about students out of bed."

"Of course," she said, reaching out to run her fingers through Finch-Fletchley's hair. Evidently she was undeterred by the look on his face that suggested he was about to throw up. "Goodnight, Severus."

With a brief nod, Severus swept off down the length of the gallery. As soon as he was out of sight around the corner he stopped, jaws clenched. Gods, what was the woman thinking? Granted Finch-Fletchley was of age, but he was a student, never mind the twenty-year age difference! But interfering with Alecto was very nearly as dangerous as interfering with Bellatrix; without a valid reason for thwarting her he would be running a serious risk, especially if it appeared he were doing so to protect a Muggle-born.

Perhaps it was that feeling of desperate helplessness that recalled to him the day before in the library, the word that had come to him unbidden. Placing his hands flat on the wall, he closed his eyes and murmured, "Succurre."

A long moment passed. He was just beginning to fear that nothing would happen, and that Finch-Fletchley was apt to have a very uncomfortable evening, when he heard a sneeze from the gallery, and then another, and then a perfect volley of them.

"M-maybe you're allergic to my shampoo, Professor."

"Ah-choo! Ah-choo!! Get awa – ah-ah-ahchoo!! Get away from me!"

"Right, sure. Er, sorry about that..."

Severus risked a glance around the corner. Finch-Fletchley was running down the gallery towards the far end; Alecto was doubled up in a fit of sneezing, one after another like a chain of explosions.

He smiled to himself and patted the wall beside him. "Well done," he murmured.

***

Over the following weeks Severus found a number of occasions to ask for the castle's aid, and he was never disappointed. Its senses were, he gradually discovered, not as acute as a human's – violent death it could recognize and respond to, as it had clearly shown during those first weeks when it blamed him for Dumbledore's death, but not the fine gradations of emotion: fear, anger, vengefulness, lust. For that, it needed his judgment. On at least two occasions the castle actually guided him to a particular location: once it turned out to be two Slytherins in a fist-fight, which he broke up promptly and forcefully, but the second was a First Year Muggle-born whose father had just been killed, being taunted by one of Amycus' minions.

And yet, despite the relative bluntness of its perception, it always seemed to know precisely what aid was needed: a door or a wall where none had existed a moment before, the temporary alteration of a room, the disappearance of a dropped wand, the strategic placement of broken glass or spilled marbles. Its resources were seemingly endless, and he sometimes thought it was rather enjoying itself.

Severus continued to act on his own whenever the situation permitted and he could plausibly do so under the guise of support for Voldemort's aims. In such cases he employed every weapon in his considerable arsenal: contempt, scorn, intimidation, and outright lies, wielding his voice like a whip. But there were occasions when his hands were tied and he could not act without betraying his true allegiance. The knowledge that, as a last recourse, he could call on the castle itself for aid gave him a sense of relief. If he had to have his back against a wall, he reflected, what better wall than that of Hogwarts?

His growing sense of the castle as a silent co-conspirator was doubly welcome since he was now utterly without support from any other quarter. He no longer had the backing, however grudging and suspicious, of the Order of the Phoenix; Dumbledore's trust had been the currency that bought him entrance, and with the old wizard's death it had vanished like leprechaun gold. Staff meetings were marathons of awkwardness and discomfort, the pretence of normalcy increasingly difficult to maintain not only because of the staff's clear but unspoken dislike of himself but also because of the addition of the Carrows. "I hate them too!" he wanted to shout. "Can't you see it? Don't you know?"

But they didn't. He had done his job too well. What a shame that success was so bitter.

***

When Severus reached his rooms he found that a Yule log was burning in the hearth, a tray of tea and toast with butter and jam on a low table before it. He opened a cabinet, took out a bottle of Remarkably Old Ogden's and splashed a generous slug into the cup before topping it off with tea. The encounter with Carrow and the girls had shaken him more than he cared to admit – it had been such a near thing, only seconds to spare! Each time he stumbled upon such things, he could not help but wonder what other horrors were being perpetrated that he did not see and could not prevent.

He dropped into the chair and took a deep swallow of the nearly-scalding liquid, relishing the heat of both the tea and the whiskey. He was fairly certain that the Dark Lord had some form of monitoring spell or object even here, in his quarters, so he could only relax to a certain level of watchfulness, but even that was better than the tension of constant vigilance he had to maintain in public. Once again he blessed the techniques of Occlumency that his mother had taught him. She had used it to blunt her mind to the bleakness of her own life, but the skills had served Severus well in crafting a surface persona deep enough to fool even the Dark Lord.

But the mind could not be false all the time, without surcease; as the body required sleep, so the mind required release, and he was so tired...He let his head fall back and twisted his shoulders, feeling the ache of constant tension and wondering when the last time was that he had truly been able to relax.

The whiskey sent its warm tendrils along his veins but could do nothing for the chill that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his chest. On nights like this it was hard not to give free rein to his resentment and bitterness. It was ironic, he thought, that he had surrendered everything that mattered to him in exchange for a position he had never wanted. The loneliness he was accustomed to; it had been a companion since childhood, but the constant low-grade antipathy of his colleagues was more wearing than he had ever expected. He had never felt well-liked, but he had at least felt respected; now that, too, was gone, taken from him along with everything else.

I wonder what they would say if they knew the truth, he thought, closing his eyes and feeling exhaustion seep over him. Surely they would approve...wouldn't they? If I only knew that to be true, it would help so much...help me to be strong enough to do what has to be done, even at the end, if it comes to that. Succurre, he thought, already half-asleep. Help me...

A tiny movement whispered through the room, no more than a faint shift in air pressure, and the fine hairs on Severus' arm and the back of his neck stood on end as though brushed by static electricity. He opened his eyes. The Yule log in the fireplace had burned down to glowing embers, and in the dim light he could see...something...on the table beside the now-stone-cold teapot. Rubbing his eyes he sat up, cast a quick Incendio to reawaken the fire, and reached for the object.

It was a stocking.

Severus stared at it in perplexity. He had not had a Yule stocking since...well, perhaps ever. He had the faintest childhood memory of peppermint candy, oranges, a striped wool cap, but that might have been wishful imagination, fueled by Lily's stories of Christmas morning at the Evans house.

This stocking was made of red felt, shabby and moth-eaten, with uneven green stars glued haphazardly here and there. It was also lumpy, filled with odd-shaped items. Carefully, Severus reached inside and felt something small and prickly. When he pulled it out, it proved to be a twig bearing stiff dark-green leaves and a cluster of red berries. "Holly." He nearly dropped it in shock as the rough voice of Pomona Sprout echoed in his mind, as clear as if she were standing beside him. He looked around wildly, but the room was empty. "Good against venomous beasts, Severus. You'll need it – there's few beasts more venomous than those around you now. Take care of yourself, my boy."

The room was empty, the corners shadowy and dim, but he had no doubt of what he had heard. As much as her words, her tone of affection sent wisps of warmth through him.

He reached in again and pulled out a sheet of glossy paper, a photograph of Madam Hooch standing on the Quidditch pitch, flanked by Hagrid and Professor Binns. All three were waving at him. Hagrid's hair was as wild as ever, and Severus was almost sure he could see a Niffler peeking out of the huge man's beard. "Yer a good man, Snape," Hagrid said with a grin. "I always knew yeh wuz, and I'm glad yeh proved me right. What yeh're doin..." He shook his head and his grin faded. "It's amazin', really. I dunno how yeh keep it up. I'd've gotten meself killed ages ago."

"You'll go down in the history books, mark my words," Binns nodded soberly. "Why, if Emeric the Evil could be defeated, surely this upstart should pose no problem for you. Emeric, you know, also had the Elder Wand, and—"

"Oh, he doesn't want to hear about that, Binns!" Hooch interrupted. She gave him a fierce smile and a thumbs-up, her hands huge in their leather flying gloves. "I know the Bludgers are flying thick and fast, Severus, but you're fast and you're clever. Keep playing the game and dodging ‘em the best you can!"

Severus smiled despite himself. He had passed Hooch and Hagrid in the quad three days ago; she had glared daggers at him, while Hagrid had clearly conveyed the idea that he would happily have killed Snape on sight. The memory of this photograph and their words would make it easier to bear next time.

He slid his fingers into the stocking again and pulled out a small square of smooth, fired clay, no more than an inch on each side. Turning it over in his fingers he saw that it was carved with a rune. "Algiz," he heard Septima Vector say in her clear, cultured tones. "The rune of protection. Keep it close, but remember that for all your care, you cannot protect everyone, Severus. We accept this. You must accept it too, and forgive yourself for the things you cannot help. I only wish I could do more for you."

He and the Arithmancy professor had hardly exchanged fifty words in their ten years of working together, but there was no mistaking the sincerity of her words. Perhaps because she had always been so distant, the kindness in her words touched him deeply.

The next item was a rectangle of heavy white cardstock. Tilting it towards the firelight Severus saw that it was a Tarot card, The Moon, and even as he looked at it the Moon's face was overlaid with that of Professor Trelawney. Her mouth opened, but instead of her usual vague maunderings, her voice was hoarse and deep, just as it had been the night he heard her prophesy truly in the Hog's Head. "You must travel in the dark, Severus," she intoned, "not knowing for sure if your path is the right one. There is no sunlight to guide you, no distant landmark in the hills to direct your steps, no one to travel alongside. This is a journey that must be made alone, in darkness and without a map or a compass, with only your own inner light to lead you along the true path. Any hesitation, any doubt, and that light will be extinguished forever. But if you believe, your light will shine forever, as brightly as the sun that will inevitably rise once this night has passed." She lapsed into a coughing fit, and when she recovered her voice has lost its peculiar potency but gained a genuine emotion. Her protuberant eyes shimmered with tears. "Oh my dear, I am so sorry for you. Only be brave a little longer, as you have been."

He blinked away a sudden blurring in his eyes. What irony, he thought, that Trelawney's prophecy all those years ago had set his feet on the first steps of this path, and that her prophecy tonight should so clearly describe what awaited him, as he approached the end.

He watched until her enormous round glasses and protuberant eyes had completely faded away before drawing from the stocking a long, curved white feather. "Wingardium Leviosa," he heard Filius Flitwick say with a pleased chuckle. "Oh yes! The first spell taught in charms: only a small thing, but because it is the first, the children are always so delighted by it. Let it remind you," he added gently, "that when we cannot do great things, we can still do small things with great love. Be it as light as a feather, it is still a blow against the darkness."

Severus' swallowed painfully in a throat gone suddenly thick and tight. Was it possible to do things with love, when one had never been given it? he wondered. He groped for the stocking, feeling something small and hard near the toe. He upended the tube of felt, shook it, and a tiny bottle of opalescent milky glass dropped onto the table. Severus picked up the vial – it was remarkably heavy for its small size – and held it in the palm of his hand. "My own days are bad enough, my boy," Slughorn's voice murmured. "I can only imagine what a living nightmare yours must be, with all of us against you, not knowing the burdens you bear. A little Dreamless Sleep is the only thing I can offer, but I give it gladly in hopes it will help restore you somewhat. Rest, and know that we too watch and ward the best we can. Your work is done in solitude, but you are not alone."

Severus' eyes burned. To not be alone...to know that they were with him after all...

A muffled sound issued from the stocking, and the toe twitched. Severus raised a curious eyebrow, then slid his hand all the way in, down to the very tip, where his fingers encountered what felt like a small crumpled bit of cloth. Withdrawing it, he spread it out flat on the table: a square of tartan, green and black with slender yellow lines. "Minerva," he murmured.

"Severus," she said, the Scottish burr softened by long affection.

"You are the hardest of all," he whispered, running his palm over the fabric. "The others were colleagues, but you were a friend..."

"And will be again," she said gently. "I would have been proud to have you in Gryffindor, Severus. No one has proven their courage more often, and more selflessly, than you."

Two glittering drops fell onto the ragged plaid and Severus dropped his head into his hands, suddenly overcome. "Is this true?" he choked out. "Or is this nothing but an illusion?" Oh, let it be real, as real as all the other help the castle had offered...

"This is the truth: that Hogwarts has a fine Headmaster, finer perhaps than even he knows."

And Severus wept, and learned that not all tears come from grief.

***

When he woke the next morning his back was stiff and sore from the odd position he had slept in, draped halfway across the hard wooden table, and he had a vicious crick in his neck. For a moment fear clutched him that the night before had been nothing but a dream, but then he saw the scattered oddments on the table. He picked up the feather, the tattered square of tartan, but their messages had been delivered and they were silent.

It doesn't matter, he thought. I know, now. And I can go on.

He looked around at the massive stone walls. "Thank you."
Tags: ,
 
 
 
Julie: Hogwarts Christmasaggiebell90 on December 14th, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
Oh. Wow. This is utterly beautiful. I love the idea of Hogwarts having awareness and will (and, eventually, love). Of course the castle did what it could to protect the students.

And Snape. I don't even know where to begin with him--can't find the words, really, other than, "Oh, Snape."

Again, wow.

Well done, Mystery Author!
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, and for the kind words -- that's just the feeling I was going for :)
忘れな草: reading and researchingwasureneba on December 14th, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of Hogwarts protecting its students (and helping Severus when it realizes that he wants to protect them, too).
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:45 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it! I like to think that at least he had some help during that awful year...
psyfic: everydayIwritepsyfic on December 14th, 2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
I love the thought of the castle itself, helping him. Not at first, of course, and the means by which it changes its attitude toward him was deftly accomplished. Clever, too, to help him save a life on the very spot he was forced to take one. This time, his actions were entirely of his own choosing, no coersion. Fitting little nuance I very much appreciated.

The castle providing what he needed to go on, was beautiful - and he would not have accepted that stocking had it looked new, attractive or pristine. Very well thought out. I enjoyed this glimpse into Severus's year as Headmaster. Beautifully done!
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
Helping a house-elf seemed like about the only sure-fire way that Hogwarts could be sure about him; glad you thought it fit. And yes, I agree -- a shiny new stocking would only have made him suspicious!
primeideal.dreamwidth.orgprimeideal.dreamwidth.org on December 14th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
Very cool! The premise that the castle froze his coffee until he defended the house-elf was great, the line about "since the memories never left him, it hardly seemed to matter" seemed very realistic, and Binns was a wonderful comic counterpoint.
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
I had a history teacher much like Binns in high school ;) Thanks for taking the time to comment, and for the kind words.
(Deleted comment)
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
I know, it was a funny day to have this posted -- I didn't realize until a day or two later :/ If only real schools could do this...
Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.
mollywheezy: Snape Chocolatemollywheezy on December 16th, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
I had to go load my Snape icon just for this comment . . . ;)

Absolutely brilliant! I loved how Hogwarts conspired with Snape to help students once the castle knew Snape was trying to help.

The Christmas stocking made me cry and was so absolutely beautiful. I loved all the things the other teachers said to him.

Thank you for such a wonderful story!
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
I made you cry!!! ***win*** Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment, you made my day when I read this :)
igrockspock: hp: snape hairigrockspock on December 17th, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
First, let me apologize for not responding on the day this was posted. I have not been online much lately, and I didn't even see it until today!

Thank you so much for this lovely story. It's really the best thing I could have hoped for! Good characterization is my literary kink, and you've really nailed who Snape is. I can believe this is the bitter, slightly petty man we see in the books, but in this circumstance, his exhaustion, loneliness, and desperation make perfect sense. I really like the distinction you make between being liked and being respected -- I think you're totally right that Snape wouldn't care about the former but would value the latter very much. I'm also a sucker for stories that show Hogwarts as a sentient place, and I love the way it slowly comes to recognize and support Snape, even when others can't. Your ending was lovely; I have always wished that Snape was vindicated before he died, and I love the idea that he could have heard what others ultimately thought of him.

Thank you again for the thought and care you've put into this story! I can't wait to find out who you are so I can follow you (if I'm not already).
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:55 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad it pleased you! All your prompts were wonderful (and as I said, the others may turn up eventually too) but this story just flowed out, like it was already written. Although I enjoy reading all kinds of Snape, canon!Snape is still my favorite and every time I read the books or see the movie, my heart just aches for him that last year -- I'm gratified beyond words that those things came through, and that you feel the same. Thank you!!
snorkackcatcher: Registered Owl Postsnorkackcatcher on December 24th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Liked this a lot -- the "stocking" scene especially was wonderful, real lump-in-the-throat stuff.
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:56 pm (UTC)
Aha, a throat lump! My work here is done...
ozarkmoon: Slytherin Menozarkmoon on December 24th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, you made me cry as he took items out of his stocking. What a lovely story!
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
Woo-hoo, I made TWO people cry!! Glad it pleased you -- thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment :)
talesofsnapetalesofsnape on December 25th, 2012 04:59 am (UTC)
Wonderful. So glad delphipsmith recommended it at one bad man.
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 4th, 2013 11:59 pm (UTC)
I'm so sneaky ;) Thanks!
kellychambliss: Not Greasykellychambliss on December 28th, 2012 11:37 pm (UTC)
What a well-crafted, well-written, thoughtful story. You've combined two elements of the HP-verse that I love: a sentient Castle and inventive magic that is rooted in character. You've effectively created the tension and misery that must have defined the DH year, and you capture Severus's desperation so well. In fact, you do a fine job with all the characters; I love that you even included Binns. Also really effective are your descriptions of the subtly of the Castle's magic -- details like these:

A tiny movement whispered through the room, no more than a faint shift in air pressure, and the fine hairs on Severus' arm and the back of his neck stood on end as though brushed by static electricity and He felt a gathering of tension, as though the air were a rubber band being stretched... then the tension snapped with an almost audible twang, and the floor of the Library trembled beneath him.

An excellent read; thank you!
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 5th, 2013 12:00 am (UTC)
I can't tell you how tickled I was when I read your comment, since I've so much enjoyed your fanworks -- kind words from someone I respect as a writer are worth double :) Thank you, thank you!
Dahlra's Submissive: Dahlra by Bulletteddyradiator on December 30th, 2012 05:03 am (UTC)
What a beautiful story - this is the Severus Snape I fell in love with, the one my heart aches for in this last, his finest hour. How can you not feel for the man, his painful, lonely isolation from everything he ever held dear? The fact that the school realises he's there to help must have brought him such comfort.

If he had to have his back against a wall, he reflected, what better wall than that of Hogwarts? What a great statement, and so true! I love the notion that Hogwarts is sentient. How could it not be?

The Yule stocking was so moving, especially Sybill's words, "Only be brave a little longer, as you have been.

Each professor in turn, giving him encouragement - that moved me to tears. Thank you for such a touching story, full of power and grace. I think this is going to become my canon for that last year at Hogwarts.
#!/usr/bin/girl: trust_snapedelphipsmith on January 5th, 2013 12:04 am (UTC)
I enjoy reading all flavors of Snape but canon!Snape is still my favorite, and every time I read the books or watch the movies I feel such pain for him, doing such difficult things and all alone...I'm glad that came through. The line about his back against the wall was one of my personal favorites, I'm tickled that you singled it out :) And your response carries double weight and meaning for me, since I have so enjoyed your own works -- thank you so very much!

Edited at 2013-01-05 12:05 am (UTC)
fruitbat00: tree hugfruitbat00 on February 26th, 2013 12:02 am (UTC)
Okay I am new to the Harry Potter fandom. So I am reading through all the fic I can find on my favorite character. And in my rabid devouring of everything Snape related I just had to comment on this story, before running off to find myself a damn hankie. Do you know how hard it is to type when you cant see the keys from crying. So excuse any typo's.

First I have got to say this is a wonderful story, I love it. I just loved that someone/something was there for Severus. But god woman you had me blubbering like mad reading this. Excellently done and heartbreaking, and and damn I really need a bloody hankie or a whole damn packet.

I am off now to try and find a happy Snape fic. But I am saving this to my hard drive because its perfect.
#!/usr/bin/girl: GryffSlythdelphipsmith on February 27th, 2013 01:24 am (UTC)
I hate to say that I'm happy I made someone cry, but...yay! I'm so glad the story spoke to you, and that the emotion I was trying to convey came through. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share what you liked about the story :)
(PS If you are a Snape fan, you will find many fine fic recommendations at one_bad_man.)
mundungus42: Pumpkin Duh Newmundungus42 on February 26th, 2013 01:03 am (UTC)
This is gorgeous. You take us from the darkest place, where those in power abuse those entrusted to their care and where Severus is at odds with the castle, to the heartbreakingly kind gifts of love at the end. Thank you for this beautiful, beautiful gift!
#!/usr/bin/girl: snape applausedelphipsmith on February 27th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! Praise is extra tasty, coming from you :)
mage_girl: Understanding Is a Three Edged Swordmage_girl on February 26th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
This is Canon.
This was one of the loveliest stories I've ever read.

The Christmas stocking had me hiding tears at work...but that's OK! I absolutely love each gift he received and the messages...so true to each professor!

What an amazing story. This is now Canon in my head, of what helps Severus get through until the end.


K.
#!/usr/bin/girl: snape applausedelphipsmith on February 27th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
I'm never so thrilled as when someone reads one of my fics and says, "Yes! That's just how it must have happened!!" Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment :)
(no subject) - mage_girl on February 27th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC) (Expand)