Chapter 4 : Perceptive
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On one of these afternoon social teas in Madam Pomfrey's quarters, Snape found himself the focus of Professor McGonagall's attention.
"So how is your seeker working out for you?" she asked with an amused tone.
"I think he'll hold his own well enough," Snape sneered. "Besides the addition of the new brooms will inevitably create far more scoring so chances that even if he was unable to capture the snitch, Slytherin would still come out victorious."
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "We'll see."
"Speaking of Quidditch, Minerva," Madame Pomfrey interrupted, "I trust your seeker has fully recovered from his injuries this summer?"
"Oh yes. He's seems to be doing very well," McGonagall assured her. She took a sip of her tea and then said, "I have to say that I was surprised how healthy he looked when he arrived here at school. No doubt as a result of Molly's cooking and diligent care."
She looked like she wanted to say more, when the muggle studies teacher, Charity Burbridge, who reminded everyone that it was time to proceed to the Great Hall for the Halloween Feast, interrupted her. With much grumbling everyone stood and began to make their way down to the feast.
The Halloween feast never had been a favorite for the staff at Hogwart's. The mischief night antics of the students combined with the incredible amounts of sugar consumed over the course of the night inevitably resulted in a very long and exhaustive night for the staff. Of course, Dumbledore insisted that the whole rational for the feast was to help keep the students occupied and prevent the number of mischievous acts, but everyone knew that it was his love of sweets that truly kept the feast happening every year.
For Snape the whole day was nothing more than a horrible reminder of his most terrible and tragic deeds that resulted in the death of the woman that he still loved more than his darkened heart could bear. If anyone noticed the worsening of his mood as the day came closer no one dared mention it, but Snape suspected that the old fool of a headmaster knew the burden that he carried with him this day, which was another reason he insisted upon the staff participation in the Halloween festivities.
At least he knew that he had pretty firm control of the students in his house and would have relatively little to be concerned about from them. Most of the Slytherin students were way too sneaky and secretive to get caught in their various pranks thanks in part to the fear of upsetting their intimidating Head of House. If only the rest of the Heads could emulate his leadership he doubted that there would be any issues at the school. But alas they insisted that the weak reins they held on their students was more than enough to keep the little fiends in their places.
The decorations in the Great Hall were as ridiculous as ever. Besides the live bats, floating pumpkins and carved Jack-o-lanterns there were huge floating banners that spelled out different things like, "HAPPY HALLOWEEN", "BOOO!" and "FRIGHT NIGHT". To make matters worse, once all of the students were seated and the food was served, a troop of performing skeletons emerged to entertain everyone with juggling acts & dance routines.
"What do you think, Severus?" asked a jovial voice from next to him.
Hesitantly, Snape turned his head to reveal his worst fear, Lockhart had somehow managed to secure a seat right next to him. Furiously glancing down the table he saw his coworkers trying very hard to appear consumed in their dinner plates while trying to hide their smirks of amusement.
Filing away this betrayal from his fellow professors to use against them at a later date, Snape sighed dejectedly and said, "What do I think about what?'
"Why, the improvements that I made on the decorations of course!" Lockhart declared in a wounded tone. "I wanted to create a more festive atmosphere so I charmed the banners and even made them emit spooky moans and howls."
Listening carefully, Snape was just able to make out the faint imitation of a banshee, a werewolf and what he could only describe as a moaning cat in heat. It figured that this buffoon would be responsible for this ridiculousness.
Lockhart began to ramble senselessly on and thankfully required very little response from him, which allowed him to mostly tone him out and scan the hall in boredom. The skeleton troop was quite the hit with the students who were laughing loudly as the skeletons kept stealing bones from each other's bodies to alternately juggle and pummel each other with. How barbaric!
Continuing his scan of the room his eyes inadvertently fell upon the Gryffindor table. A cursory look up and down the length of the table caused him to realize that a particular student, along with his two little minions, were missing from the celebration. Where in the world could they be? Surely they, like the rest of the student body, must have been looking forward to this all week. His mind began to race as he considered the possibilities that could have drawn them away from the Great Hall on this night. Luckily he didn't have to wait long before the scary truth of their absence was revealed.
The four heads of houses stood together in the headmaster's office in a nervous silence awaiting Dumbledore's return from the hospital wing where he had escorted Filch and Mrs. Norris. Their faces were all grim and concerned, and Snape was quite certain that their minds were racing almost as fast as his. Of course, Snape knew that their thoughts were no were near as turbulent as his own thoughts.
The boy had not been truthful even after he had threatened to have him banned from Quidditch. If it hadn't been for the presence of his coworkers he would have forced the thick-headed child to speak to him. The oddest part of it all, however, was that even his friends who were quick to jump in and cover for him, were unsure of what to make of what was happening to Harry.
When Dumbledore finally arrived in his office he seemed more tired than Snape had seen him before. His piercing blue eyes had lost their sparkle and his shoulders had a definite slump. Of course as soon as the old man realized that Snape was being his usual overly observant self he straightened up and addressed the gathered staff members.
"I have managed to calm Argus as best as can be. Poppy gave him a calming draught for tonight and he will sleep it off in the hospital wing. She is confident that there will be no lasting damage to Mrs. Norris after the Restorative Draught is brewed and administered," Dumbledore recited.
"You don't believe that the Chamber has truly been opened, Albus?" Madam Sprout burst anxiously.
Dumbledore shifted his eyes to Snape who gave him a slight shake of the head, and said, "I do not believe so, no. I believe that we need to attribute this to a foolish Halloween prank and try to move on from here. However…I do expect everyone to stay alert and keep me informed of any odd or suspicious behaviors from any student OR STAFF! After last year we need to always remember that things may not always be what they seem."
"What do we tell our students?" Flitwick asked nervously.
"Tell them exactly that," Snape cut in. "That this was nothing but a prank and to pay it no mind. We all are very much aware of how quickly things get out of hand with these children. The last thing we need is to add to the paranoia and suspicions."
"Severus is right," McGonagall chimed in. "Not to mention just how damaging this could be to the school if word of this got out to the Ministry. Or heaven forbid to the Prophet."
"It is settled then," Dumbledore said decidedly. "Go and address your houses and placate their fears."
Everyone hurried to the door except for Snape who hung back knowing that Dumbledore would be wishing to speak with him.
"Well?" Dumbledore prompted softly. "What did you get from him?"
Snape sighed. "He is hiding something, although it may not be what we think. I believe it may be something to do with the voices that he heard in Lockhart's office."
"That is what I gathered as well," he replied with a nod. "You seemed particularly harsh with his considering you knew that he was innocent."
"I was hoping to scare him into telling the truth," Snape growled.
"Well, my boy, you must remember that not everyone responds to threats with such openness that you seem to be expecting from him," he said with a hint of his familiar sparkle in his eyes.
Ignoring the comment Snape pressed on, "Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger seemed quite uneasy with whatever it was that Potter was concealing."
"Ah yes. Most thorough of you," he said knowingly. "I confess that my primary focus was, naturally, on Harry, but I did catch glimpses of the uncertainty from the both of them. We should keep an eye on them as well. Maybe we can gain some knowledge about what is happening to young Harry through them."
"It definitely will not be any kind of a challenge to discern anything from Ms. Granger. All one would have to do would be to monitor her actions in the library and see which books she is searching for," Snape said with a sneer.
Smiling at last Dumbledore said, "Ms. Granger's constant thirst for knowledge and enrichment is what gives me hope in the youth of today." He sighed thoughtfully before continuing. "I could not help but notice that you have made several trips to the library yourself recently, Severus. Have you been looking for anything particular?"
"You know bloody well what I was searching for you old codder!" Snape spat. "Quite trying to be clever about it."
"As you wish," the headmaster conceded. "Then please allow me to say that I am pleased to see you taking an interest in the boy's well-being."
"Pft! His well-being my arse!" hissed the frustrated Snape. "I am merely curious about the mysteries surrounding the boy. Now if we are quite finished here, I need to go and brief my snakes about tonight."
With a wave of a hand, Snape was dismissed, although he did not miss the knowing smile that Dumbledore wore as he rushed out of the door.
On the morning of the Slytherin versus Gryffindor Quidditch match, Snape awoke with a nervous dread in the pit of his stomach. It was time to see if the gamble that he had taken in allowing Draco Malfoy to join the team in exchange for the new racing brooms was going to pay off. He had stressed to his team the importance of winning this match and they had been quick to reassure him, but he was still not certain. All he did know for certain was that he would never hear the end of it from Professor McGonagall if the lions were to come up victorious over his snakes.
He had to admit, as well, that he was truly interested to see how Mr. Potter, the son of the most obnoxious seeker that Gryffindor had ever known, would fare against Malfoy. He was very much aware of the constant clashes and animosity between the two of them, and often found it hard to not see the parallels between the two of them and himself and James Potter.
After mindlessly brewing up some much needed potions to replenish the school's stock, Snape headed down to the pitch to await the start of the game. As he walked he could not help but overhear the whispered gossip of several Hufflepuff students in front of him.
"Of course it was Harry," the blond boy was saying. "Harry was always getting into trouble with Filch. I'd bet you anyway that he did this to get back at him."
The mousey looking girl with the stringy brown hair stared at him with a look of astonishment. "Wow. Harry really is brave! Did you see how angry Filch was? I thought for sure that he was going to kill Harry until Professor Dumbledore showed up."
Snape rolled his eyes. Despite their best efforts to squelch the potential for rumors, it was obvious that these children were going to continue making up ridiculous stories. Naturally the rumors would do nothing but bolster the already inflated hero status of the boy.
Speeding up past the querulous children Snape found his seat in the staff area of the pitch. Just as he was settling himself in to watch the game, his attentions were called away by the appearance of Lucius Malfoy who was making his way up into the stands straight for Snape.
Holding back a groan, Snape rose and made room for his teams' benefactor to sit beside him. They exchanged small pleasantries between each other making observations about the gloomy looking weather and the general excitement levels of the gathered students for the first match of the year. Luckily, however, there was very little time for small talk before Madam Hooch signaled the beginning of the match.
It wasn't long after the match began that Snape realized something wasn't right. He watched in growing anxiety as the bludger ignored every other player on the field and chased after Potter exclusively. Trying to hide his concern from those around him, he kept his eyes glued to Potter, but kept his face neutral and stoic.
He was barely aware of the roar of the crowd as Slytherin scored time after time or the rain that began pelting the spectators and players. At one point Snape tore his eyes away from the game being played to glance at his blond companion only to see a peculiarly satisfied smirk on his face. His mind began to race as he began to wonder if Lucius had anything to do with Potter's bludger difficulties. Would this sinister man really go to such extremes just to assure his son's performance outshines the other's? Snape knew that he already knew the answer to that. Snape also knew, however, that it was nearly impossible that Lucius could have gotten access to the balls. Madam Hooch kept the balls securely locked up and at an undisclosed location, which would inevitably prevent Lucius, or anyone else, any opportunities for sabotage.
"Foolish boy!," Lucius muttered angrily from next to him.
He looked up just in time to see Draco taunting and laughing at Harry in mid-air. Looking carefully Snape could just catch the glint of gold just behind the Slytherin's head. Before Snape really had time to process the scene in front of him, he saw the bludger speeding up to the hovering Potter who has clearly let his guard down.
The pain registered clearly on Potter's face as the bludger slammed into his elbow. Snape could tell that the bone was broken by the way it hung limply at his side as Potter steadied himself on his broom and sped off towards Malfoy. Malfoy, clearly shocked by what appeared to be an aggressive move by the wounded Gryffindor, ducked out of the way thus clearing the path for Potter to easily capture the snitch.
Snape took no notice to the string of curses and insults that were being muttered angrily by the obviously disappointed elder Malfoy as he joined the rushing stampede of students and staff members that were rushing to the aide of the fallen seeker.
By the time that Professors Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore had arrived at Potter's side, Lockhart had already made the situation worse. Snape watched in repulsion as Potter was led away by Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley his now boneless arm being held gingerly with his one good arm.
Snape turned on Lockhart angrily, "What in Merlin's name, is wrong with you?!"
"Severus," Dumbledore said warningly. "Not here."
Snape took a step back and tried to calm his racing heart. As he worked to calm himself, he became surprised at the intensity of the anger that he was feeling concerning the display of incompetence shown by the feeble-minded defense teacher. He knew that the damage done to the boy was not anything that Madam Pomfrey couldn't rectify. Yet he could not shake the persistent thoughts that kept telling him that this was a blatant attack on the boy made worse by the idiocy of an arrogant dolt who cared nothing for anyone but himself. Was it not bad enough that this child had been denied a safe and secure home for the whole of his life, that he was now being denied the same at the school he cared for so much?
Shaking his head he stormed away from the still gathered crowd suddenly longing for the comfort and solitude of his quarters. Surely he must be feeling ill or something with the way that he is wasting his efforts and feelings on Potter. This must be Dumbledore's doing he reasoned with himself. He has been planting ideas and thoughts into his head that has been softening his image of the boy. This was his ultimate plan from the very second that he had sent Snape to Privet Drive to rescue Potter. Well, he was going to put an end to this here and now. He was not going to allow himself to be manipulated by the doddering old fool.
Yet Snape knew, as he marched determinedly along to the castle that he was lying to himself. Somewhere in the past several months since his visit to Surrey, Snape had allowed Potter to intrude into his area of concern and he was most displeased with it. He needed to disentangle himself from this emotional blemish on his conscious. He knew then what he must do. He would force himself to distance himself from anything and everything concerning the child. No matter what Dumbledore requested of him, he knew that this is what needed to be done.
Feeling much more satisfied now that he had a proper plan on how to proceed, he was eager to get on with his plan. So he was surprised when upon reaching the castle he made his way up to the hospital wing rather than the sanctity of his living quarters.
He had to quell this unexplainable need to assure that no lasting harm had been done to the child.
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