Chapter 1 : Subplot
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1 – Snape
The staff room of Hogwarts had a large window to the west, letting the tiny stars on the collar of Professor Dumbledore’s robe and the glittering beads around Professor Trelawney’s neck catch the sinking summer sun. It was the pre-term staff meeting preceding the end of the holidays; all teachers who had been away on holiday – or maybe on secret business – had returned for it. Professor Snape, who hardly ever left the school, had been gone for almost a month, trying to find out who among Lord Voldemort’s ‘moderate’ supporters of the past could maybe be persuaded to work against him this time. He wouldn’t have dared to show his face among actual Death Eaters, the inner circle of the evil wizard: Just as their master, they probably knew he had betrayed them in the past and were eager to kill him. But of course, Voldemort had more supporters than just his narrow inner circle, ordinary people who might not mind going over the Dark side again, but with whom there was a slight chance they could be persuaded to change sides this time. Snape’s reputation was still an ambivalent one – many people still thought him a Death Eater who had betrayed his master out of mere cowardice. He had tried to gain the confidence of a few of these wizard families. Snape’s mission had not been without dangers: While some wizards let on they were still undecided with whom to side this time, some others had been decidedly eager to lay hands on him. After the second narrow escape, Dumbledore had sent him an owl to lay off his activities, as they had become too risky. Whatever trust his former associates had had in him was used up.
The meeting was the usual humdrum of a boring staff discussion - organisational matters, affairs of minor importance. After the dangers that lay behind him Snape found attending it in patience even more difficult than usual. He wanted to discuss some aspects of his trip with Dumbledore, maybe even with a circle of trustworthy witches and wizards who would fight the rise of Voldemort with him. Surely the teachers of Hogwarts had more important things to discuss than the introduction of a new edition of spell books or the existence of a new building close to the forbidden forest, rumoured to be erected for the use of whatever fool Dumbledore had hired to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts this time. Snape raised his water-filled goblet to sip a bit, bored to the extent of trying to find something to do with his restless hands.
“She’s due to arrive tomorrow”, the old headmaster responded to Professor Flitwick’s question. “Professor Varlerta is a musician; she is doing research on sound magic which may at times be a bit dangerous. She specifically requested a sound proof building removed from the proximity of the castle so she can continue her research here on the grounds.” Great, just what we need at a time when the world is falling apart, Snape thought and let the water spin in his goblet – a little sing-along! He might have let a sneer escape on his usually controlled face, because Dumbledore fixed him with an ice-blue stare.
“Some of you will remember her: She attended Hogwarts as a student many years ago. I’m sure Professor McGonagall will remember teaching her. Professor Snape may remember her from his own student days.”
Snape almost dropped his goblet. With trembling fingers he set it back on the table, hoping no one had noticed. He barely listened to Professor McGonagall good-natured comment that she couldn’t recall the name. Sneaking another glance at Dumbledore, he caught his eyes once more. This could mean only one thing – everything else would be far too much of a coincidence. Snape kept his eyes downcast, hoping the heat he felt rising in his face would not show. The rest of the meeting seemed to be a blur of sound to him; his mind was on other things. Varlerta. Valerie. Yes, he remembered her indeed. How remarkable that Dumbledore should also remember. They had talked about her on two occasions only, and those had taken place many years ago:
He had been a fifth year student on that first occasion, and going to Dumbledore was his ultimately last resort. The head of his house, ancient Professor Malgam, had told him that he couldn’t help him, that he didn’t know any more than Snape himself where Valerie had disappeared to. Yes, apparently she had left school right in the middle of a term, and for good. No, he had no idea why or to go where. Yes, it was odd indeed, and as the head of her house he verily disapproved of such practices. The old Potions Master had worn a look of pity on his face, whether for the student who had disappeared or the one who stood before him Snape never knew. Professor Malgam was his favourite teacher, and he knew he was liked in return if he kept up the good work and fulfilled the expectations set in him. “It’s a pity, I know,” the Potions Master now said glumly. “I knew you were helping her with her potions and found her greatly improved since then.”
Snape had told himself he shouldn’t bother. He had sent a school owl on the uncertain mission of finding Valerie nevertheless, but the owl had returned without delivering his short note. The thought of consulting the school’s headmaster with his trivial request had been outrageous, but still he had found himself asking Dumbledore about Valerie’s whereabouts when he met him alone in the hallway one day. The old, honourable wizard had given Snape a very odd look. “No, I’m afraid her schooling is out of my hands. I don’t know whether we will ever hear of her again. I’m sorry.”
The second occasion Snape thought of had not been entirely different, come to think of it. Then, to the young man of nineteen, the incident of his fifth year had been remote history; now, the man of thirty-five the two incidents seemed to be not only connected by their common theme but also because they belonged to that remote region of time, his youth. At both times he had been young and had felt a strange lump of confusion in his stomach because that bloody witch, Valerie, had disappeared into thin air, something that seemed almost a character trait of her. On the second occasion Dumbledore had again been Snape’s only hope of having his questions answered, and instead of this, had once again warned him. Didn’t he know who she was? Yes, of course, by now everybody knew, didn’t they? To say Dumbledore frowned would not have been accurate; there was a serious thunderstorm going on in his brows: Snape had trusted her in spite of it? One word of her, and the Death Eaters would prepare for him the painful death of the traitor he was. Snape had just shrugged: It made no difference. Not trusting Valerie had simply never occurred to him.
Of course, in the beginning, he hadn’t known who she was: Nobody knew, with the possible exception of Dumbledore. His year-mates at Slytherin, fascinated with Dark Magic and even as third-years all but bent on joining the Dark Side, might have treated her a bit different had they known. As it was, they called her Stinker, pelted her with dung beetles or similar and forced her to play her lute anywhere but the Slytherin dungeon. Whenever the unattractive, silent girl had appeared carrying her cumbersome load of an instrument, they told her to make sure not a sound escaped from the battered, useless old thing she called a family heirloom. Snape had joined their jeering. He certainly wasn’t the most popular student in the school; in the gang of his housemates he was only suffered if he accepted that the least place with them was his due. When one of the leaders told him to do something for them, well, he usually did it. Being occasionally bullied was better than being alone all the time. If you didn’t have a friend in the house of Slytherin, you could get entangled in the obscure hierarchy that was tradition among the students; they would make your life a misery. Stinker didn’t have a friend, of course, not even among the girls. She wasn’t wanted in the dungeon. Luckily, this wasn’t Snape’s problem.
Then one day Professor Malgam had called several of his favourite and most gifted students into his office. Students respected him because he was strict but fair. He didn’t appreciate students messing around, he said, but he believed in second chances. If there was one thing he hated, he told his chosen few, it was when a Slytherin failed to excel in their traditional craft, the noble art of Potion making. Sadly there were a few first and second year students in his house who appeared to be hopeless. This must be amended. His eyes rested on his favourite students, all of them Slytherins. He trusted them to put things right. Each of them was to pair off with one of the more or less hopeless causes. They were to teach them at least the basics so they were adequately prepared to at least understand their regular Potion lessons again. He read off the list of who he had assigned to who. Tough luck as it was, he had entrusted to Snape the most hopeless of his cases, namely Stinker, the girl who attended her potion lessons without showing even a shred of cooperation or discipline. It was the only time in his life Snape had felt angry with his favourite teacher.
With exception of the occasional jeering, Snape had never spoken to the girl before. Now as she stood before him, stocky and unsmiling, barely female-looking, with a black mop of hair that fell into her eyes, he thought the only good point of her was that he noticed no particular smell around her whatsoever. She didn’t need that to be repulsive; her ungratefulness absolutely sufficed.
“Oh, trying to turn me into a model student, Professor Good Samaritan Snape?” she mocked him when he offered her his help. “Well, a thousand thanks, but no thanks, I can manage alone just fine!” She turned to leave, but he took hold of her arm. “Professor Malgam told me to get your potion skills into shape, and I’m going to put them into shape, believe me!”
“Oh, I see, you are under higher orders! How could I so gravely misjudge your intentions! Well, why don’t you just take your orders and stuff them into Malgam’s cauldron?” She jerked at her arm, but he strengthened his grip.
“Get your dirty hands off me!” She looked really angry now. A part of him wanted to comply rather badly; it was not the kind of assignment he was looking forward to. A second part of him hated to disappoint his favourite teacher. He had never failed him before and was sure the old wizard would hold him responsible for her accomplishments and failures from now on. A third part, by far the strongest, started to dominate his thinking: He was taking her behaviour personally. Even though he was more than unwilling, he had offered his help in a tone as neutral as he could manage, but all he got for that was her scorn. If he gave in now and let her get away with it, he admitted defeat, something which did not agree with him at all. He gave her a cold stare.
“I tell you what, Miss High and Mighty, you better be in the library tomorrow at seven and cooperate or I’ll jinx your lute.” This threat had come to him out of nowhere and sounded a little ridiculous even to him when he uttered it, but it seemed to do the job. Her eyes narrowed. “Leave my lute alone, or you’ll regret it. I’ll come alright, but it better be worth it.” With these words she jerked her arm out of his grip for good and strode off. He stared after her, realizing his task was promising to become even less rewarding than he had anticipated.
Teaching Valerie twice a week for an hour was a sore trail indeed in the beginning. Snape soon realized that she had lousy grades coming up not only in Potions, but also in History of Magic and Herbology. There was nothing wrong with her brain, he had to concede, as she had a good memory, was quick to understand everything he said and apparently mastered everything that caught her interest. However, this is where the problem lay: She was a reluctant student, not only with her teachers but also with him. She seemed to hate most things at the whole school, or, if her own words were to be believed, the whole castle and magic in general. Magic, she said, was not interesting and Hogwarts had nothing to offer to her; she wanted to be a musician anyway and found most magic ‘idiotic wand-waving’. For everything and everyone she had sarcastic remarks, always pointing out the bad side of things and neglecting the good side. It may have been here that their friendship started to germinate; they had the same sense of humour. Even though Snape was constantly reprimanding her for her ‘attitude problem’, he often had to fight to keep his mouth from grinning at her curt remarks. Sometimes even a joke of his own escaped his control, which Valerie usually topped with a reply of even blacker humour. Over the time the two of them became the verbal equivalent of sulphuric acid. Valerie respected nobody and nothing, with the possible exception of her lute teacher.
That was the other thing: She wandered off all the time. After a few months of teaching her Tuesdays and Thursdays, he declared they would have to change to Wednesdays and Fridays as he wanted to join a duelling club which met three nights a week. Valerie’s reply was that it was all the same to her except for Friday, on which she was busy. “Busy?” he had snorted, knowing that she had never taken part in any kind of evening activity except for wandering off on her own. Valerie shrugged and offered no explanation, but did not show up in the library on the following Friday either. At breakfast the next morning, he told her off in no uncertain terms: The finals were coming up in four weeks, and as far as Professor Malgam’s expectations went, he was to be held accountable for the marks of both of them. Once again, Valerie shrugged; she had told him she’d be busy. The next Friday he waited for her in the common room. She passed him in her usual fashion – the monstrous lute shouldered, looking neither left nor right, dodging anyone who tried to tease or hinder her. He got up and followed her up into the castle’s entrance hall and then out into the rain.
Neither of them wore cloaks; he certainly hadn’t expected her to go outside. She never looked over her shoulder even once so she did not notice he was only twenty steps behind her. While the downpour had already drenched his robe and his hair so they stuck to his body, he noticed that she and her lute obviously stayed dry as if shielded by some invisible roof. Valerie was heading for the Forbidden Forest with an air as if no such rule applied to her. Snape broke into a trot and caught up with her just beneath the first trees. When he gripped her shoulder, she turned to face him.
“What in the world do you think you are doing here? In case you forgot, you happen to have a little studying appointment with me!”
“I told you I’m busy. By the way, you’re all wet, Professor Strict.” Like always, she did not call him by his first name, but by her mock translation of it. Under strands of black hair, her eyes gave him the most unconcerned look.
“How very perceptive of you! Well, you are not supposed to be busy, neither when I teach you nor in this forest, which is not called ‘Forbidden Forest’ all that accidentally, by the way.” Snape was fuming; a concentrated drip falling from the edge of her magic umbrella into the back of his collar did little to lift his mood. It seemed to be impossible to shame this girl – bad marks, scolding in case of rule breaking, nothing seemed to impress her. She just grabbed his sleeve and pulled him behind a tree and under her invisible rain protection, which was quite an impressive piece of magic, he had to concede. She saw his appreciating glance upwards. “Can’t let my lute get wet, can I? By the way, I’ve got to go, my teacher is waiting for me.” “Right. Professor Malgam is waiting for a secret tête-à-tête with you the forest.” She gave him a look of utter impatience. “My lute teacher, you idiot! Well, I better take you with me or you’ll tattle.” Once more pulling his sleeve, she lead him deeper into the forest.
Snape had never been one for rule-breaking; if a forest was out of bounds, it meant he didn’t go there. Now, however, something like curiosity must have grabbed him; he followed without resistance. The forest was dark and chilly; he shivered in his wet cloak as he hurried after her. He saw Varlerta wave to the occasional goblin or distant unicorn, heard her hiss casually at a large snake hanging from a tree and shout greetings to two centaurs who galloped by. Then they came to a clearing. The weather had changed; wet green leaves glistened in the summer sun, and small white flowers shone in the grass. On the remote edge of the clearing stood a large female centaur wearing a brown leather vest over the human part of her body, her wrinkled face framed by two grey braids that hung far below her waist. Slung over her right shoulder hung a crossbow, a quiver with arrows and a truly huge lute. Valerie stopped before her, then indicated a little bow with her head. “Lady Lido, I’m sorry I am late.”
The centaur accepted her apology with a curt nod of her head, then glanced over Valerie’s shoulder at Snape. “And brought company.”
Snape swallowed hard; for a number of reasons, he was not at all certain that coming with her had been a good choice. Valerie indicated first the centaur and then him with her hand by way of introduction. “This is Verus. And this is Lido, Lady of the lute, my teacher.”
He had put up with enough mockery concerning his name, Snape thought. “Name’s Severus!” he snarled at her. “No, it’s not,” she responded with her usual look of unconcern. Then she indicated for him to sit on a moss-covered, strangely dry tree-trunk and conjured up a tiny but warming fire in front of him in a matter of seconds – the air was already warming back up in the sunshine of early summer, but as his robe was soaked he was grateful. This settled, she started her lesson with the old centaur.
Snape found watching the two rather impressive. Not only had he never seen a real centaur up close before; the degree of familiarity between the two of them amazed him. Of course, Valerie did not treat her lute teacher with her usual air of insolence at all, but seemed to greatly revere her. The centaur criticized the girl’s lute playing rather harshly, but instead of talking back, Valerie only nodded, obviously bent on improving her skills. For the first time Snape heard her play, as she had always be banned from the Slytherin dungeons whenever she tried to play a single note on her instrument. He started to wonder why they banned her; it was nice to hear her play and might have been an asset in the common room, at least on certain occasions. After the better part of an hour, the centaur looked at the early evening sun and declared the lesson as finished. Valerie thanked her with another little bow, nodded to Snape, who by now was dry again, and both of them left.
“See why I can’t study with you on Friday? The old lady would rip my head of if I tried to change anything about our arrangement.” They were half ways through the forest. Snape was still looking around in wonder, too awed to argue. “Do you come here often?”
“To practice. They are not nice over there.” She waved her hand at the vague direction of the castle. He nodded. “But it’s forbidden.” She shrugged. “It shouldn’t be. The Forest is a great place. Loads to learn here. Sometimes I think they want to keep us stupid over there.” He would have liked to lecture her on safety matters, but somehow it seemed pointless. Not only would she have laughed at him; she did not seem unsafe in this forest, but rather looked like someone who knew exactly what she was doing. When they had reached the forest’s edge, she halted.
“If you want to get into the forest, here’s the best place to enter. It can be overseen from practically no window in the castle, nor from the Quidditch pitch, nor from the game keeper’s hut.” He nodded mutely, not at all sure he would ever make use of this piece of information. The narrow path in the grass ahead of them forked into two directions. Valerie pointed at the left one. “Glad you can’t tattle. Let’s go back separate ways so we do not catch any attention. See you later, Verus.” She started off the right one.
“Don’t call me Verus,” he protested.
“Yes, I will,” she responded over her shoulder as she walked away from him. And she did.
The friendship of Valerie and Verus had been a rather strange one. Never Valerie sat down with him at a meal or approached him when others were present; whether it was because she was afraid he would rebuke her or whether she was just condescending to protect his shaky position with his year mates he never knew. If the two of them were seen sitting together in the Slytherin common room they were usually busy with school work. Professor Malgam had commented on the favourable progress Snape’s student had made; he told both to keep up the good work. Valerie’s marks had improved; she never failed a single subject, although Potion-making was an art she never quite mastered. But for the main part of the day, both students kept to their own ways. Valerie remained the model of a social misfit, only occasionally hanging out with a few girls from her year. Snape kept to his Slytherin gang, glad he had advanced in their rows a bit as a fourth year because gang leader Lucius Malfoy and his best friend Walden Macnair now had younger students to boss around. When the gang decided to pick on Stinker, Snape came up with something else for them to do; he never bullied Valerie again, but did not openly defend her either.
Their friendship was not common knowledge. They met in secret every couple of days to prowl the Forbidden Forest together. Valerie knew many creatures that lived there and often stopped for a chat with the odd centaur. She also knew which parts of the forest they better not enter, hinting darkly at large spiders and worse. Often the two of them would sit in the clearing, protected from the elements by magic: The weather shield was an easy trick he too had mastered within a short time. Snape felt oddly at peace when he sat on the tree trunk, preferably on a sunny day, and listened to her practicing her most valued possession, the ancient lute inlaid with intricate rose designs of bone and mother-of-pearl. She insisted it was a family heirloom and had been played by her wizard and witch ancestors for several hundred years. “I never heard your family name before,” Snape had protested, implying that there was no such thing as an ‘old’ wizard family he hadn’t heard of. Valerie had only answered vaguely that it had come to her from her mother’s ancestors but did not elaborate.
Rule breaking seemed to be Valerie’s second nature, especially if it concerned going wherever she pleased. Every now and then Snape tried to change her, but his lectures availed to nothing. The girl just answered with her usual shrug and then pointed out to him that they had never been caught. He had quickly learned to walk noiselessly and to melt into the shadow of doorways and niches just like her, so the two of them did not need to be invisible to roam the castle and grounds unnoticed. For the three spy dogs the caretaker kept Valerie and Snape had come up with a neat little Illusion curse that made the animals see, hear and smell them as a pack of huge, ferocious, drooling dogs with bloody muzzles that growled fiercely at every whine of fear. The real dogs quickly learned that the best way to deal with this superior pack was to completely ignore them.
Well, curses, this was another matter. Contrary to the Hogwarts dogma, Snape had learned and practiced quite a bit of Dark Magic at home. His mother and father had always practiced dark magic and were secretly supporting “You-Know-Who”, as everyone had started to call the evil wizard. Being underage, of course Snape had never done serious dark magic, had never killed or hurt another person. But there were other things he had learned to do which were forbidden at Hogwarts. Many of them had to do with controlling the will or the mind of another person without actually placing them under the Imperious curse. Some were about deceiving the senses of others, generally known as Illusions. Curses that aided thieves and the like he had never learned, as they were considered to be beneath his family’s dignity.
Talking to Valerie about these things, he found out that she, too, knew a great deal about the Dark Arts. They studied and exchanged curses, discussed which ones they considered usable and which they would rather not try. They liked to measure their skills against each other, as in this area none had a clear advantage over the other. Sometimes they met in the forest at midnight for a duel among friends, often after they had argued, which happened rather frequently. Later he was amazed that none of them had ever seriously hurt the other, as the things they hurled at each other had by no means been child’s play. Remembering their time together he also wondered whether they had considered themselves on the side of good or evil: In spite of cultivating their skills of controlling and deceiving other people, they never discussed this in earnest. Maybe they had just liked to think of themselves of having hidden powers. Every now and then they actually used a forbidden spell, for example when they magically convinced Professor Malgam that their Slytherin common room needed a table for playing Four-Dimensional Uncontrollable Pool, a rather dangerous game for playing indoors. Snape thought if the other Slytherin students had known they were responsible for the teacher changing his mind, they might have thanked even the despised Stinker, but as it was, he never saw her play with anyone. He thoroughly enjoyed the table with his friends, though, up to the day when a second year student was hurt rather seriously by a flying ball, an event which resulted in a removal of the table from the premises.
Helping with Valerie with her school work was a task Snape had come to enjoy, even though he never admitted it. Always an ambitious student himself, her made sure her marks were above average and tried to teach her a minimum of respect for her teachers. Still he couldn’t help laughing at the outrageous putdowns she had in store for basically everybody. Sometimes he imagined the two of them as conspirators plotting to ridicule everything that had authority and power in this castle – the teachers, the headmaster, the care-taker and of course his Slytherin gang, authorities he never failed to pay his respect to outside her company. Still, sometimes when he was with his gang, he caught himself calling people by her names for them in his head, for example thinking of Malfoy as Pukehead, of Macnair as Dunghead, of Crabbe as Braindead and of Goyle as Meatball.
When one Sunday afternoon in the fall term of his fifth year she failed to meet him as agreed, something that had never happened before, he looked for her in the forest and found her sitting on their tree-trunk in the golden-leafed clearing, crying silently. Without thinking, he sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulder, worried as he had never seen her cry before. She sobbed a bit on his shoulder, but then wiped her eyes and refused to tell him what was wrong. “Why don’t we just run over to the duelling ground and run through a couple of noisy spells, Verus?” she asked. He nodded, knowing that in spite of her usual silence she loved noise and big bangs.
A chronic insomniac even then, he worried about her that night. Something inside of him told him it was wrong to leave her in her isolation, never trying to include her in the circle he spent most of his time with. In spite of her disdain for his Slytherin gang and of their contempt for her, he approached Macnair the next day, who was their leader after Malfoy had completed his seventh year.
“We should let her join us,” he told him. “She knows loads of curses and even talks Parseltongue. She’s a true Slytherin.” Macnair had only laughed at him.
“Trying to get your stinking little sweetheart to be accepted, huh? Well don’t bother. Even if she was to grant everyone of us the favours she obviously bestows on you, we wouldn’t want her. I’m appalled by the thought of doing it with Stinker anyway.” Snape flushed with shame. How could they think such a thing? But as denials would only have made matters worse, he just turned on his heels and fled. Relief flooded through him as he realized there was no need to ever tell Valerie of this conversation.
A few days later when Snape came into the Slytherin common room before the crack of dawn, as often the first student to rise, something blinking on the floor caught his eyes. He stooped to pick it up and found it to be a wooden splinter the size of a Sickle, inlayed with bone and mother-of-pearl. Something icy dropped into his stomach. Finding a puddle of blood on the floor could have hardly filled him with more dread. He sat down in the corner and waited for Valerie until it was high time to get breakfast before classes started. There was nothing to worry about, he told himself, as Valerie was often late and even liked to sleep in when she was not supposed to. The whole day he tried to catch a glimpse of her anywhere; in the evening he sat there once more watching the entrance to the girls’ dormitory dungeon, wishing he could go in there just the once to see whether Valerie was there or not. Well after dusk, he asked a year-mate of Valerie, a mousy-looking girl he had occasionally seen her with. “It’s a mystery,” the girl told him. “Her bed is stripped and her trunk is gone, even that grisly lute of hers. I have no idea why, but I’d say she’s gone.”
As Snape stood in the bathroom of his private quarters, struggling with washing his hair, he tried to recall Valerie’s face, either the one of her childhood or the one of their last, fateful meeting, but failed. The Potions Master, a man usually considering himself rather brave, made a sour face when the soapy water ran down his face. He had always hated washing his hair, maybe because it seemed to have no avail whatsoever. He dried off as well as he could, frowned at his hook-nosed reflection in the mirror, and went to his wardrobe where he spent a few minutes on selecting his best-looking non-dress robe. His mood continually shifted between excitement and pessimism. So he would see her again today. So what? Had she ever thought of him in the last seventeen years? Probably not, or she would have sent an owl some day or other. Well, would she have known where to find him? Probably not, but she could have asked Dumbledore, couldn’t she? Obviously the headmaster had been in touch with her, or how could he have hired her? Sourly Snape thought that he shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t try to look his best like a dressed-up monkey. Then he glanced at the grandfather clock besides the door. Early morning. No need to get all upset about it, he told himself – the last time to expect her was early morning.
Two more days, and the school year would start. It was not a happy thought. Not that Snape hated teaching – he just did not like it overly much on most occasions. He loved his subject, but wished he had the privilege of teaching it only to the gifted students, or maybe to those who even had a remote interest in his noble art. When he had started teaching, there had not been much choice: He was hiding away at Hogwarts, while elsewhere his life had been in danger, so he hadn’t minded doing something useful with his time. Old Professor Malgam had made him assistant for a while and then resigned his post to Snape. At first he had tried to be as fair as his mentor, strict but also generous if necessary. Confronted with inattentive, reluctant or sometimes even incompetent students, he tried to think of the girl he had taught when he was still a student: If he had proved able to get her interested, it shouldn’t be difficult with the assorted bunch of average nuisances he faced every day. Unfortunately it was not as easy as he had hoped. Often he overlooked a class of nothing but blank faces he sometimes thought of as consisting of plaster. He had tried to be patient even with those students he actively disliked or considered plainly stupid only to find he had no patience for them.
Snape could not stand mayhem in his class, just as he could not stand disrespect. Both brought out the worst in him. Yet he was bent on never losing his temper, even though it was sometimes simply boiling under the smooth surface which cost him so much effort to uphold. Sarcasm and a strict regime helped him feel in control of the class. Students who were afraid of him provoked him significantly less often to the point where he wanted nothing more than to duck them headfast into their boiling cauldrons. The only problem was, almost everybody hated him. He could hear the students whisper about the defects in his character when they thought he wasn’t paying attention. With the other teachers it was even worse: The verdict ‘talented with potions, but horrible with people’, if not to say ‘failed career’ seemed to float around him whenever he entered the staff room. Once he had handed in his resignation to Dumbledore, but the headmaster had asked him to reconsider for reasons of his own, so Snape had stayed. Over the years, he had become more and more stubborn – he was and would remain Potions Master. If others didn’t like it, tough luck.
Sitting in the library with a stack of books and parchments, revising the lists of lengthy assignments he would give his classes in the upcoming school year, he couldn’t help looking out of the window every now and then. When would she come? Had she maybe already arrived? How would he know when she came? As the day wore on, Snape grew more and more impatient, but resisted the urge to ask others whether the new teacher was already at Hogwarts.
He needn’t have worried: Professor Varlerta arrived with a bang. Startled by the loud noise, he found himself running to the window to look out into the grounds. A motorcycle appeared to have landed neatly in the middle of the lawn; its occupant, dressed in black leather, was struggling with a red motorcycle helmet from which a sheet of black hair emerged. Snape could not restrain himself; he walked down to the entrance hall as fast as his dignity allowed. On the way, he met other teachers. The noise of the motorcycle had obviously alerted not only him to her arrival. As he walked out of the door with forced slowness, he could see a woman shaking hands with Dumbledore, and, yes, this witch was obviously an older version of the girl he used to know.
The adult Valerie was tall and slim, with a well-defined, high-cheekboned face and strait, shiny black hair that fell almost to her hips. She had obviously taken off her leather jacket because of the afternoon warmth. It hung over the saddle of her black motorcycle; against it leant a heavily padded nylon bag for what looked to be a smallish guitar. Valerie’s clothes, tight black leather pants, heavy black boots and a black t-shirt, made Snape swallow hard. He knew that Muggle women wore trousers and tight-fitting clothes - he had even seem some scandalously revealing pictures of Muggle women some time or other. In the world he lived in, however, women wore wide, flowing robes. This person now stiffly embracing Professor McGonagall, a teacher she had liked as a girl, this person looked as strange to Snape as anyone could.
Obviously Professor Varlerta had not noticed him yet. She shook hands with all the teachers, introducing herself to the ones she did not know yet, exchanging greetings of various degrees of warmth with the ones that had known her as a student. Snape kept himself in the background, a lead weight in his stomach. He wanted to be noticed and not to be noticed at the same time. Valerie approached him, her smiling face turned over her shoulder to Professor Flitwick, who must have said something to her. Then she turned her face. Her smile faded and her eyes rounded. “Verus!” she said softly but intensely.
Here we go with history repeating itself, he thought.
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