This story was entered in the Sycophant Hex: Spring Faire Festival under the General Story: Socializing Snape?
The criteria is below:
The final confrontation with Voldemort has long since passed and the Light has won the war. How does Snape react when faced with socializing with his fellow Order members, and the more acceptable sect of the Wizarding world in general, on a regular basis? Did he really hate his fellow Death Eaters? What are his true feelings about his fellow Order members? His Slytherins? Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Dumbledore?
The Human Condition
There was an eerie silence that pervaded the dungeons at night.
Normally, it was something that Severus enjoyed...the absence of useless words in idle conversations from those drifting by, or the brief respite from the jarring sounds of everyday life.
Yet as he undertook the dreaded task that he had been trying to avoid in the weeks that followed the demise of Voldemort, he wished to hear those little things that were, before, unwelcome in his life. He wanted to hear some particularly brave -- or foolish, depending on how you looked at it -- student prowling outside his chamber doors, trying to get an intimate glimpse of their notoriously private Head of House. On more than one night such as this, Severus had his solitude interrupted by those in his House that were a bit more daring than the others. He would catch them, of course, and berate them for their blatant disregard for the rules all the way back to their dormitories.
Secretly, though, he had admired their unyielding curiosity and the lengths they would go to in order to satisfy it.
Now, as he cocked his head toward the door to listen, he heard nothing but the complete silence that he had longed for before...
It was a cruel twist of fate when the things you desire the most leave you feeling so empty, so hollow.
He forced himself to return to the task at hand. A ledger, dusty and neglected on his desk, was the focus of his attention tonight. It contained the names of every single student in his House, and he needed to go through it, to...
To ensure it reflected their current status.
Quill in hand, he started with the seventh-years.
Quiet girl, but with a sharp mind, he recalls. He scrawled a quick note next to her name:
He was about halfway through the "H"'s when he threw his quill down in anger, furiously rubbing at his eyes. The weary Potions master closed the book and shoved it back to its original spot on his desk. He knew he really should finish it, as he had been putting it off for two months now, but he just does not have the strength. Besides, the state of his desk was starting to get to him. He cannot remember when he had gotten so lax about its order.
Abruptly pushing those thoughts aside, he opted for a late night stroll through the corridors. At one time, it was a necessary measure. Contrary to popular belief, the Head of Slytherin House had better things to do than waste his time searching out rule-breaking students. The real reason for his patrols had been survival. Despite all the assurances from Albus about the castle's security, Severus knew that it was never a guarantee. Nothing in life is certain, and he was not one to take unnecessary risks. The spy in him would not let him rest until every corner and each hollow of the castle had been checked for possible intrusions. Wards and enchantments, spells and glamours, they all had one thing in common.
Sometimes, they failed.
When you are in the risky business of espionage, you cannot afford to trust that everything will work properly. You just do your best to ensure that it does. If a lack of sleep was the price that Severus had to pay for his own skin, then he considered that a bargain. Of course, the original applications no longer applied to his wandering throughout the night. It had become a simple habit.
Habit, which he was starting to think is the proper designation for his entire existence.
As he prowled, seeking out shadows that he knows will never come, he wonders if it is wrong to feel a small loss for some of the others. The ones that had been foolish enough to believe the empty promises and manic drivel that had spewed forth from Voldemort's mouth on a regular basis. Well, not quite 'wrong' -- 'traitorous' would be a more appropriate adjective.
The irony is not lost on the Potions master.
He was not the only Death Eater to question the motives of the Dark Lord, nor was he the only person to regret his decision. The sole reason for his continued presence on this Earth was due to the fact that he was a man of action. He had made a mistake, and tried his best to correct it.
There were social functions in that not-so-illustrous club that did not include killing, maiming, and torturing, although the masses would be hard pressed to believe it. He had engaged in chess games and academic conversations at the more pleasant Death Eater functions, and found that it was something he had come to miss. There was no talk of Mudbloods and Potter at those types of events, which had been arranged by Voldemort to ease tension amongst his followers and foster solidarity within his circle. Although Severus's pride did not want him to acknowledge it, he knew exactly why he had been able to derive pleasure from those mundane events.
They had treated him with respect.
It may have been respect borne out of fear or a desire to advance, given his status in Voldemort's inner ranks, but it was respect nonetheless. Of course, he had academic respect from earning his title as a Potions master, but this was much more tangible to him. It was akin to being thrown into a body of icy water when he had to attend Order meetings after Voldemort's social functions.
At Grimmauld Place, he was treated like common trash, barely tolerated and certainly not welcomed.
Despite the outcome of the war, and his role in it, the remaining Order members still acted as if he soiled the very room by simply being in it. Truthfully, he did not care what the likes of Shacklebolt or Tonks thought about him, and the animosity that radiated off Moody was mutual.
What annoyed him the most was that Weasley, Potter, and the Granger girl were lauded as heroes of the highest degree. They were nothing more than three spoiled brats who believed that the world owed them something, in his opinion. Severus was not inclined to grovel at anyone's feet; he had enough of that during the years he had been forced to lick Voldemort's boots.
"Severus?" A familiar voice cut sharply through his musings.
He glanced up and spotted the unmistakable form of Minerva in the darkness, rapidly approaching.
"Minerva," he said, with a slight bow of his head in greeting before he resumed his steady pace.
She quietly joined him, walking next to him in silence for a time before finally blurting out, "Why are you doing this to yourself?"
"I am afraid I have no inkling as to what you are referring to, Minerva. Please be aware that I am not privy to the conversations that occur only in your head."
She shook her head in obvious exasperation. "I, unlike most of the people you come in contact with on a daily basis, am not intimidated by the myriad of defense mechanisms you like to call your 'personality'. I knew you when you were just a child, Severus. You would do well to remember that."
Severus opened his mouth to object, but promptly snapped it shut when he glimpsed the stern look on Minerva's shadowed face. There was no point in trying to stop her once her legendary Gryffindor stubbornness reared its ugly head. She mistakenly took his lack of response as encouragement to continue.
"Besides, you know exactly what I am referring to. There is a fine line between grieving for the lives of your students and wallowing in self-blame. You are sinking into the oblivion of the latter, Severus, and if this continues..." she paused, her voice beginning to crack with emotion, "you may never get yourself out."
He stared at her in disbelief, speechless. How dare she, he thought, in self-righteous indignation. How could she, who had not even lost enough students to necessitate counting them on two hands, have any idea what it is like?
"Professor McGonagall," he said, as her shoulders slumped slightly in defeat upon hearing the use of her formal title, "while your concern is appreciated, it is also unwarranted. I suggest you use your keen sense of empathy on those who actually need it, like the countless parents and guardians I still have to write letters of condolence to."
"Pardon me, Professor Snape . I did not realise you were the only person to suffer loss from this war. Shall I inform Miss Weasley that it is time for her to stop mourning her brothers, because you are the only person with a legitimate reason to grieve?" she said, angrily.
"No, not at all," Snape muttered. "You can simply tell her to ask her mother to breed some more. It seems like the only thing a Weasley can do correctly."
Minerva went deathly pale, with two red blotches slowly returning colour to her cheeks. Without any warning, she reached up and slapped him hard across the face, the force of the blow momentarily stunning him. She took advantage of it, glaring at him with eyes that, surprisingly, still held a barely perceptible glint of compassion.
"I will pretend I never heard what you so callously uttered moments ago, and leave you to your own private funeral procession in peace. I will be speaking to Albus about your behaviour, though, if only to rid my conscience of the notion that I did nothing to help you, should you decide to do something brash and foolish."
She turned sharply on her heel and left without another word. Severus lifted a hand to his stinging cheek, remaining motionless as he listened to the sound of her footsteps fade into nothing more than quiet echoes in the darkness.
Shaken, although he refused to admit it to himself, he opted to return to the relative safety of his colleague-free dungeons.
Or so he thought, anyway.
As he was just about to delve into another meaningless project, he heard Minerva's threat come to life in the form of Albus Dumbledore's obscenely cheerful voice, now booming from his fireplace.
"Severus? Severus, are you in there?"
Severus headed over to the grate, pausing just long enough to grab a few papers. He had learned long ago how to avoid lengthy conversations with the headmaster: always look like you are in the middle of something.
"Yes, Albus? To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" Severus said, with an air of unmistakable indifference.
"Well, Severus...you know how I hate to meddle in the personal lives of my staff, but...my boy, are you ill? That sounded like a rather nasty cough. Would you like me to call Poppy for you? I'm positive she would--"
"I am fine, I assure you. Just a touch of dust; I am behind in a few things, dusting among them. Bloody house-elves cannot be trusted around important documents," Severus muttered, purposefully moving the papers clearly into Albus's field of view.
"Ah, I see...well, I won't take up too much of your time then. I was just wondering if you remembered the story I told you, when I asked you to take the position as Head of Slytherin House."
"You interrupted me to see if I know what you said almost twenty years ago?" Severus replied, fixing a gaze on the headmaster that clearly read 'you are now certifiable, and I will be drafting the paperwork any day now.'
"That is a shame; I rather liked that one," Albus said, in a tone that spoke more of regret than disappointment. "Well, good night, Severus. Sleep well."
"Good night, Albus." The green flame died out, leaving the Potions master alone once more.
Deciding that being angry with the headmaster's incessant need to bother him was a complete waste of energy, he settled into the battered armchair that was to his immediate right. The papers, useless now, were carelessly dropped onto the floor as Severus found himself actually trying to recall that particular conversation, which now seemed like a lifetime ago...
"...well, do you accept my offer, Severus?"
The Slytherin had been so preoccupied with studying the room for potential threats that he had not actually heard Dumbledore's proposition. Still, it was no matter. He had no foreseeable way out of this mess without the old man's help, so even if the offer was to trail Dumbledore around with pocketfuls of sweets as a personal walking candy dish, he'd take it.
"Yes, thank you," he replied, absentmindedly.
"Splendid!" the headmaster cried in delight. "Now I know being the Head of Slytherin may sound a bit daunting, but I'm sure you'll..."
The rest of the sentence was drowned out by the roaring in Severus's ears.
"Headmaster?" Severus inquired, cutting off what sounded like a diatribe on the old days.
"Yes, what is it, Severus?" Albus answered, kindly.
"I fear I have misunderstood you. I know you mentioned Potions, but I could have sworn you just said you were making me Head of my former House."
The elder wizard leaned forward and smiled. "You heard correctly, my boy."
"I...I could not...surely you can see what I have done, what poor choices I have made! How can I possibly lead children who are in the most danger of falling into the very same traps?"
"Let me tell you a story I once read, Severus. Please forgive me if some of the details have left me; I fear I have become a bit absentminded with age."
Severus stifled a snort at the understatement, and silently waited for the headmaster to drone on.
"There was, a long time ago, a tribe of people who fled their home. The cause has been lost to history, but it is safe to say that they had no choice in the matter." Dumbledore paused, his eyes now squarely focused on Severus's own.
Severus cringed inwardly at being the object of such scrutiny, but he kept his eyes trained on the headmaster, unwavering in his gaze.
"Suffice to say, they eventually came upon a split in the road. One path looked dark and sinister, but the other looked green and promising, much like the area they had been forced to leave. As the leader of the group began to lead his people down the latter, with no hesitation or question, a voice called out, 'We must not go down that road, as enticing as it may seem. We will only end up in misery at its end!'
"The leader looked at the man who was voicing this dissident as if he had gone mad. 'Have you no eyes, my friend?" he cried out. 'It is obvious that the path you would have us follow is full of evil and vile things.'
"The man came forward to address the leader. 'This is not true. Although the brighter path may seem to be the right choice, I know it is not.'
"'What proof do you have, kind sir?' the leader inquired.
"'I have taken that path before, and barely escaped with my life. I implore you to take the shadowed path, which leads to a land much like our former home.'
"The leader laughed with scorn at the man, and announced, "All who wish to follow me to our new home, come with me now. All who wish to follow this...fool, do so at your own risk.'
"With that, the group murmured amongst themselves for a few moments. A handful went to stand with the man, but the vast majority remained at the side of the leader, believing his promises of an existence like the one they had lost." Dumbledore paused here, and stayed quiet for what seemed like hours to Severus, even though it was more like ten minutes or so.
When curiosity finally got the better of him, Severus finally broke the silence. "Well, what happened to them, then?" he asked, a barely disguised hint of impatience in his voice.
The headmaster smiled, as if he had been waiting to see if Severus was listening to him or not. With his eyes shining with pleasure, he continued. "The small fraction that had gone with the man down the dark path wondered if they had, indeed, followed in the steps of a fool. They battled many things and faced untold dangers until, one day, they reached a beautiful and bright pasture, much like what they had before. As they rejoiced, news reached them of what had happened to those who had followed the easy road. They were now slaves, and living in deplorable conditions under the hand of a mad ruler, whose kingdom that path had lead them straight into."
Severus stared at the headmaster for a moment, in pure disbelief. "Forgive me, Headmaster, but the majority of the people were lost, in the end. How is that supposed to help me?"
The headmaster winked at Severus, and shook his head slightly. "Ah, but Severus, if that man had not been there or had been too afraid to speak out, then they all would have been lost. Who would you have followed? The foolish leader who knew nothing of the end of the way of which he spoke, or the man who already made that mistake and learned from it?"
Severus thought for a moment before replying, "I would have followed the man who learned from his mistake, instead of a leader who spoke of promises and little else, Headmaster."
"Exactly, my dear boy. Who is better than you to lead the children of Slytherin down the path that is so unlike what they have known, Severus? And, please, call me Albus."
Severus did not know which was more amazing: that he could clearly recall the parable, or that Albus could remember back to the time when he had helped to redeem a scrawny Slytherin who didn't really deserve the amount of faith placed in him.
Unsure of what to do next, since sleep was definitely out of the question now, he found himself headed toward the Slytherin common room. He had mastered the art of stealth a long time ago, so he was able to observe some of his remaining students unseen. It was, once, a most effective way of controlling teenage hormones. He had caught many students in stages of undress, trying to satisfy their adolescent urges, in the past.
It was funny, but he wished there was still a dire need for that kind of observation.
He watched the unusual mix of students studying, talking, and laughing together. There were very few seventh and six-years left, so they had taken to socialising with the lower grades.
There was William Pent, a brilliant Potions pupil who wished to find a cure for lycanthropy one day, as his sister had been bitten as a child. He was talking animatedly with a dark haired girl that Severus recognised as another promising student, Agatha McCrue.
Sitting around the table were two second-year boys and a fourth-year girl. He was not too familiar with the second-years, as they were average students, but the girl was named Martha Sloate. He remembered her because her desired career was an exception amongst the normal ones associated with Slytherin.
She wanted to be an Auror.
Leaving as quietly as he had entered, Severus headed back to his quarters, feeling an odd sense of determination in his stride. After a brief moment of hesitation, he threw a handful of Floo powder into the grate and announced his destination.
A/N: My eternal gratitude to my beta, CareCrystal. Any remaining errors are entirely my own. Title: The Human Condition