Author's Notes: Beta-ed by jynx67
The Smartest Slytherin
“If your friends Crabbe and Goyle intend to pass their Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. this time around, they will need to work a little harder than they are doing at pres--”
HBP, Chapter Fifteen
The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom had an eerie quality to it, caused by the reflection of light from the sky and snowy grounds outside. It was unnatural to have every inch of the room lit up so evenly that every shadow had disappeared. It seemed that nothing could be hidden in this room.
Professor Snape was reviewing the detailed results of the previous year’s O.W.L.s. again. It was annoying that somehow there was the implication that he was responsible for the terrible grades and not “Professor” Umbridge. She was back in her warm chair at the Ministry, though he had heard rumors that if you made certain sounds, she would start panicking.
Forty students had been tested. Three (Malfoy, Macmillan, Potter) had achieved Outstanding. A few had made Exceeds Expectations; about half he knew to be members of “Dumbledore’s Army”, the others were Slytherins. Some had made Acceptable, the rest had made worse. Here the teacher frowned; two were in his own house, Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe.
That Harry Potter had an O was not unexpected. That Neville Longbottom had an E was. That any Slytherin did not at least make an A was unfortunate.
He himself had supervised study sessions in the Slytherin common room on Defense Against the Dark Arts, making sure that Umbridge did not do anything to upset Slytherin’s chances of winning the House Cup on the academic points. Even though the O.W.L.s were graded on the fifth year and the results would not be ready until summer, those scores went towards the next year’s House Cup. Snape did as much on the academic front as he did in ensuring that the Quidditch players got more than their fair share of practice time, and that he never took a point from his own house, except when in the presence of other faculty members.
All that aside, that Goyle would freeze up on the O.W.L.s might be expected. That Crabbe would was not.
He himself had taught the class this year. The work the two were turning in was less than satisfactory. Goyle would sit in class and go through the motions of participating. Crabbe would look like he was taking notes, but when Snape prowled around the class during lectures, he saw that the student was merely doodling.
Year after year the Sorting Hat had announced that the House of Slytherin was the house of ambition. Yet these two seemed to be there just because there weren’t enough beds in the other houses. For all their loyalty to Draco, they may as well have been Hufflepuffs. And as for them being pure-bloods, they seemed to exist as a warning of the consequences of in-breeding.
There was nothing for it but detention. In detention, Snape could hover over them, make sure they had their books open and breathe down their necks until they could demonstrate some competence in the subject. That the holidays were approaching did not help any; both of their fathers were in hiding. He knew their mothers; neither had been stellar students and would want their sons home. Education was not a high priority compared to Death Eater cronyism. If there were to be any tutoring, it would have to be done during detention.
He loathed the idea. Detention for a student meant detention for the teacher; one had to be in the classroom to supervise the miscreant.
Snape went over to his desk, picked up their last week’s class tests, and carried them over the window. Goyle’s paper was on top. Snape looked over the test answers and sighed. In spite of all precautions, he probably copied off Crabbe and couldn’t even do that job right.
He then shuffled the papers and looked at Crabbe’s. He glanced over the paper, frowned, then read the paper. It was worse than Goyle’s. This wasn’t possible. For the past five years, it had been the other way around. Snape was certain that Crabbe knew the material. What was he thinking of, to write this…this drivel? This was worse than Crabbe’s own O.W.L. test last May. Did he even care that his grades were so bad that he could be expelled? The last student expelled for bad grades was Stan Shunpike, but even his work showed more pride than this slop.
What type of jobs did these two think they could get with grades like these? What could possibly be the use of slacking off as Crabbe, at least, was obviously doing? Maybe Goyle was doing his best, but he usually followed his mate’s lead, but Crabbe?
Snape frowned at the paper as he returned Goyle’s back to the desk. There was something he was missing as he studied Crabbe’s answers. He sat in the chair, head in his hands as he stared at the paper. Something missing… He remembered walking past the two-some during last week’s test. Crabbe had his hand covering something at the bottom of the paper. The bottom of the paper now had nothing on it. Had it been notes? Stolen answers? In light of the current state of the graded paper, neither seemed likely. Even answers from another test would make more sense than what he had been reading.
Snape took his wand and thoughtfully tapped the parchment. Nothing. What had been at the bottom of the page? The next step was simple. “Professor Snape demands you reveal your secrets,” he said as he tapped again. No need for theatrics, no one else was in the room, and the parchment would either answer or not.
It answered, showing him doodles that had been inked over. Snape felt a brief wave of disappointment. After all, most students did Vanish their doodles before handing their work in. He put the parchment back down and walked back to the window to ponder the mystery, while rubbing his left arm. He looked out at the lake, then down on the snow-covered lawn. The snow hid everything. A layer of water, crystallized and chaotic, covered the grass. Snape stared some more, and then started suddenly. He realized that he needed to look under the ink; perhaps the answer was there.
It was not a hard spell to remove the last covering of ink from the parchment, but it was tricky to make sure that the doodles were not removed, too. It took time, but finally it was done. And less than half an hour later, he could see that the doodles over-lapped each other. He left the ones on the right side of the paper alone, and concentrated on the left side, just so he could compare the two. A few minutes more, and the original doodle stood out.
It was the Dark Mark.
He turned his attention to the other side and carefully removed the original doodle – it looked like another Dark Mark – from that side, and saw what had been scribbled over the Dark Mark.
Crabbe’s anger was penned out in coarse and vulgar terms. His anger against his teachers, his father, Draco, and “Snake Bastard” was plain to read. The Dark Mark was made cartoonish and crossed out over and over again, until a charm had been used to repair the parchment. Now that he knew what he was looking for, Snape gave a few more short waves over the parchment, separating words, blots and doodles, until he read: I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
Snape stared at the parchment and comprehended the purpose of the failing grades: Crabbe did not want to be a Death Eater.
The boy was Slytherin. The boy’s father and grandparents had been Death Eaters, and before that, the great-grandparents had been Knights of Walpurgis. It was his destiny to take the mask.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
Snape couldn’t see how Vincent Crabbe could avoid it, with his peers and his parents.
Snape looked at the grade on the parchment again. Unless he was too stupid.
Vincent Crabbe was smart enough to be stupid, if that’s what it took to change his world. Who else was going to help him get out of the nut-house that was his world? His Death Eater teacher? His Death Eater relatives? His associates, whose parents were also Death Eaters? And how else could he avoid the ultimate Death Eater, Voldemort?
By playing stupid.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
Of all the Death Eaters’ children, he was the only one who seemed to know what danger lay ahead, and the only one working to avoid them.
Fine, then don’t be one, but you, Vincent Crabbe, still have to finish school, Snape grimly thought. And if any of us get out of this alive, you are still going to need a job and a place in society.
And with that…
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE, the parchment seemed to argue.
I have my job, my reputation, the professor sourly thought. I am your teacher, despite everything else I am, and you are my pupil.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
I’m not going to make you be a Death Eater, the professor silently argued back. But you still need to be able to defend yourself.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
Detention, the professor grimly answered. At least there, Draco won’t be able to drag you along on whatever he is currently doing. You and Draco will have to work this out between the two of you. But detentions will keep him off your back for a while.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ONE
Then DON’T be one, Snape silently snarled back. But don’t compromise your education and your own future. You’re smarter than that.
I DON’T –
The man forced his hand down on the parchment, covering it up as if to silence the words that seemed to shout at him.
After all, Vincent Crabbe, the teacher grimly thought, you know what you don’t want to do, which makes you smarter than most of the students in this school, and you’re willing to sacrifice yourself and your future to avoid that road. Selecting what you DO want to do is the other road, and you’re not going to get on it by hiding behind a “stupid” façade. It’s one road or the other. You’re the one making the choice.
Professor Snape waved his wand over the parchment. Almost immediately it reverted back to its original form, the doodles and the ink merely Vanished.
He sat back down at his desk and mentally prepared himself for the interview he would have with the boy that evening. He would help Vincent as much as he could, to choose what he did want to become. Gregory Goyle would probably follow Vincent Crabbe, but Snape felt relief knowing that Crabbe would, at some time, stop following Draco Malfoy.
If only the other Slytherins would be so smart.
If only he himself had been so wise, he thought, as he rubbed his arm again.
Author's Notes: Dedicated in Memory of Professor Max Nixon, University of Oregon Art Department and Advisor to the EMU Student Union Board, who told me that knowing what you don’t want to do is every bit as important, if not more so, than knowing what it is that you do want to do.