Pawn to Queen
Prologue: Setting Up the Board
"Neville, all you have to do is add a drop, just a drop---" Hermione Granger demonstrated, tapping her vial of dragon's blood delicately over her caldron. She looked over at Neville Longbottom, who was trembling at the cauldron next to her; though the pewter bowls were billowing steam up at their owners, she was quite certain that most of the drops of moisture on Neville's round flushed face were not from the heat of the cauldrons.
"Like--- this?" he asked timidly, trying to imitate her movement--- but his hand shook so badly that he dumped half the vial in.
"Oh, no!" Hermione exclaimed. Dragon's blood was a very potent substance, and if she remembered correctly, that much of an excess in a Febrifugius Potion would---
Thinking fast, she reached over and dumped most of her own stores of dried fairy wing into Neville's vat. It would render the potion absolutely useless, of course--- but fairy wings in this mixture would counteract the explosive tendencies of dragon's blood, and she rather thought a failed potion was better than an explosion.
Professor Snape, who had materialized at their side with his usual wretchedly perfect sense of timing, clearly did not share her opinion. "What's this?" he snapped at her. "Showing off again, Miss Granger? Letting your housemates ride your academic coattails?"
Hermione opened her mouth to say something, then realized she was stuck. If she explained what had happened, Neville would be in trouble--- and his grades couldn't afford whatever Snape would do to him. To say nothing of the fact that he was scared witless of Snape.
Well, she wasn't. She snapped her mouth closed and met his gaze with what she hoped was the correct mixture of deference and defiance.
Snape stared back at her coldly for a moment. "Well, then, Miss Granger," he said icily, "let's see how much help you've been to your hapless housemate, shall we?" He snatched up her ladle from the table and measured a small quantity of the potion into a vial.
Hermione's stomach sank through the floor. The potion, of course, wasn't going to work--- in fact, if she remembered---
"Here." Her unpleasant ruminations were disrupted by the even more unpleasant experience of having Snape thrust the rather strong-smelling vial under her nose. "Drink this, Miss Granger--- at this dose, the potion will only lower your temperature a few tenths of a degree, not enough to be significant--- if, that is," he added sarcastically, "it works at all." The entire class was watching now, the Gryffindors with sympathy--- for her--- and rage--- at Snape... the Slytherins gloating disgustingly. She thought she saw Pansy Parkinson giggle, the pug-faced nitwit.
Hermione regarded the vial with dread. Fairy wings in the Febrifugius Potion, coupled with the dragon's blood... had turned it into a very powerful emetic. She knew it. And, judging from the rather ghastly look of anticipation on Snape's face, he knew it.
Beside her, Neville raised his hand timidly. "Sir, it's m-my p-p-p-potion," he stammered. "Hadn't I ought to---"
"It was your potion, Mr. Longbottom," Snape snapped. "But since Miss Granger, here---" he swept a cold glance over at her, and she cringed inwardly--- "has seen fit to take on the task of doing your work for you, it is only fair that she should enjoy her own handiwork." He raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that so, Miss Granger?"
Well, there was only one thing to do, unless she wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon--- and probably the whole weekend, given that dosage--- with Madam Pomfrey. "Sir," she gulped, "it--- it won't work---"
"Really?" His trademark sneer was going full blast. "And why is that, Miss Granger?"
He knows, she thought, and he's going to make me say it anyway. "B-because---" stupid stammer!--- "I put fairy wings into it."
Snape's eyebrows flew up into his lank, oily hair. "Sabotaging another student's work, Miss Granger? And another Gryffindor, at that?" He leaned close, his hands resting on the table between them. "So, it's not enough glory for you to get the best grades in the school, is it? You have to make absolutely certain that everyone else fails, too?"
If that were true, the Sorting Hat would have put me in Slytherin, and then you'd be gloating about my cunning, like you do Malfoy's, Hermione thought, but had more sense than to say.
Neville opened his mouth to explain, but Hermione stepped on his foot behind the cauldron. There was no need to get both of them in trouble.
Abruptly, Snape leaned back, dumping the vial's contents into the cauldron. "Very well," he said. "Ten points from Gryffindor apiece--- and, I think, a detention for Miss Granger."
Hermione couldn't suppress a look of horror. She'd never had a detention from a teacher before! She was a prefect! And it was just like Snape to break her perfect record.
Snape started to sweep off, then looked back at them. "And you, Mr. Longbottom, will produce a working AntiPyrate by the end of class---" the period was half over--- "by yourself, or it's another ten points from Gryffindor." And, finally, he left them.
Hermione and Neville shot each other sympathetic glances. "Hermione," he asked plaintively, "why didn't you let me explain?"
"Because it wasn't worth both of us getting in more trouble," she said. "You wouldn't want to be stuck down here with him for two hours tonight, would you?"
Neville shuddered and turned back to his cauldron, looking totally bewildered
at the prospect of making a potion without her help.
"Miss Granger." Snape's soft voice cracked like a whip across her skin. "Before you slink off with your... friends---" his voice turned the word into something slimy, his eyes moving from her to Harry and Ron--- "there's a little matter of your detention."
"Go on," Hermione said sotto voce to the boys. "I'll be okay." This last to Ron, who was regarding her with some concern.
"Sure," Harry said affably, though she noticed his eyes flickered to Snape. "C'mon, Ron---" He took their friend's arm with rather more firmness than camaraderie required. "See you in the common room, Hermione."
As the boys disappeared through the door, Hermione turned back to Snape, trying not to think of some of the things he'd made her friends do over the years. Cleaning the bedpans in the hospital wing without magic probably took first place for horrible.
She approached his desk, and stood before him silently, not wanting to make things worse.
For a moment, Snape sat still in his chair, his fingers steepled and his eyes elsewhere, a very sour expression on his face--- almost as if he were warring with himself.
Abruptly, he sat forward, his eyes coming to focus on her with the intensity of a stooping hawk. She fought the urge to jump back, stood her ground. "I have an experiment to conduct tonight," he said abruptly. "One which, unfortunately, requires two pairs of hands and eyes--- and two brains possessed of at least moderate intelligence and knowledge of the properties of magical ingredients." His eyes narrowed unpleasantly. "Since you seem so familiar with the more--- complex--- aspects of potions making, it seems only appropriate that your punishment be to assist me."
For a moment, Hermione could only stare at him, while bits and pieces of a puzzle sorted themselves out in her mind. He had recognized what she'd done for Neville... and his choice of punishment for her had been entirely self-serving.
Her mouth started working before her common sense could take over. "Of course, sir," she said coolly, "but the next time you need an assistant, I don't suppose you could enlist my services without taking points from Gryffindor?"
The minute the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to bite her tongue in two. She snapped her lips together and regarded him fearfully.
But--- for a moment--- it appeared as if her fears were groundless. Snape regarded her in mild astonishment... and for a second, the unpleasant glitter in his eyes warmed to something almost like amusement.
Then, before she had time to relax, that cold cruel glint was back. "I suppose I could, Miss Granger," he said dryly, "if you and your friends did not make it necessary for me to penalize you." He sank back in his chair. "I'll expect you here tonight at six." One long bony hand flickered in the air. "Now--- out!"
The door closed behind the Granger girl, but Severus Snape stared after her for a moment, a wry smile playing about his lips.
A smile that turned quickly to a self-disgusted sneer; it galled him to have to praise Draco Malfoy's mediocre efforts, to show favor to the spawn of a man he despised--- for Lucius Malfoy fell right behind the late James Potter and his little gang in Snape's lexicon of loathing--- while a bright little star like Miss Granger went begging. It took extra effort not to show her favor; he had to go out of his way to be hard on her, lest he slip in an unguarded moment, and show his approval for such an intellect. Only through subterfuges such as this one could he show her any favor. Transparent device, really; there were Sixth Form students in Ravenclaw who'd be as useful.
No, he corrected himself, not as useful as she. Yes, there were bright little Ravenclaws aplenty, even a Slytherin or two with a sharp mind--- but Hermione was that one-in-a-thousand intellect that every teacher dreamed of having, just once. And not just brilliant, either--- he'd wager that his young cousin Blaise Zabini, had an intellect to rival Miss Granger's... but not the drive, not the hunger. Not the... ambition.
"What a waste," he muttered to himself. One wizarding parent--- just one; half-bloods were acceptable to the Sorting Hat, as one Tom Riddle had proved to the despair of his House--- and she could have been a Slytherin.
One of his. Her sharp mind and drive to learn a credit to his House, and not Minerva McGonagall's.
Gods knew Slytherin could use the help, he thought dryly, sitting forward to regard the essays on his desk with some distaste. He remembered the days before Voldemort, when Slytherin had won the House Cup fairly, by dint of drive and cleverness... and success.
Like him, in his student days. He remembered, with a vivid pang, the evenings in the Serpents' Den, the little group of them--- Evan Rosier, who never talked about anything but money, Ellen Wilkes (he still couldn't think her name without shuddering), Bethany Kendrick and Anton Lestrange, who were inseparable, Jeremiah Avery (of whom the less said the better, in Snape's opinion)... and him. The youngest of the lot by a full two years, but belonging. His knowledge of the Dark Arts--- indeed, the speed with which he learned just about anything--- had bought him acceptance into their little group.
Of its own accord, his hand moved to cover the Dark Mark on his other arm. Better to have stayed an outcast!
A sneer twisted his mouth. Better for Miss Granger, too--- she'd have been better off on her own than hanging about with Harry Potter... James' son. James the thoughtless, the adored, James whose foolhardiness and arrogance had destroyed his own friends....
Best not to think about that. But it was uncanny how this Gryffindor Muggle-born could so closely resemble him--- even to covering a friend's mistakes.
Of course, she did it out of the goodness of her heart, no doubt. He'd always done it for pride's sake.... But at least it was an honest pride, Slytherin pride in being the best.
That was no longer the case in his House, when any student of character who knew anything about the Houses--- and the ones with any wizarding blood, the only ones Slytherin would accept, all did--- would do anything to avoid being Sorted into Slytherin. The only students who wanted to enter his house were....
His lip curled. Inbred was the best word for it. Inbred, like Malfoy and his goons, marrying into the same lines for centuries. Inbred, trading on family name and family money, and cruelty, rather than ability. The dregs of a once-noble House, the worst possible result of an attempt at eugenics.
This time the twist to his lip was self-mocking. He was pureblood as any of his charges--- but both the Snape and Andropolous sides of his family had believed in separating out the culls from their bloodlines. An Andropolous woman wouldn't deign to carry an inferior child to term.
Snape ran his hand through his greasy hair--- no matter how often he washed it, the oil seeped back into his hair within a few hours--- and sighed ruefully. Sometimes he wondered how he'd been allowed to be born.
But then Lucretia Andropolous Snape, Potions Mistress at Durmstrang Institute, would have been proud to know that her son had been a Death Eater....
A Death Eater. The blackest of the black, their evil outmatched only by their pettiness....
He banished that thought coldly. At least he had something like a worthwhile purpose now. And at the moment... he had his students' appalling work to grade, and the experiment to prepare for.
The experiment.... He felt his lips draw to a thin line. Miss Granger would no doubt be pleased to learn that her efforts tonight were going toward the development of a cure for lycanthropy. Dumbledore had tasked him with it--- the Headmaster's subtle way of punishing him for unmasking Remus Lupin.
Well, at least it was a task worthy of his skill. And perhaps, Miss Granger
would be worthy of it herself.
Hermione could hardly believe her ears. "A what?"
Snape raised an eyebrow at her. "I was under the impression, Miss Granger, that your hearing was in excellent condition--- certainly, you seem quite capable of exchanging whispered confidences with your Gryffindor cohorts... on my class time, might I add."
"My... my hearing's fine, sir." It's my credulity that's a little strained. Why Snape would want to develop a potion that would, among other things, assist someone he despised... well, it was about as out of character for him....
As complimenting her. Which he'd done earlier, in a backhanded sort of way.
As if he could read her mind, his lips twitched. "Professor Dumbledore requested it," he said shortly, "and therefore, I should like to accomplish the task with all due haste." He shot her a sarcastic look. "If, that is, you've finished gaping like a codfish and are ready to proceed."
Hermione snapped her mouth shut. "Yes, sir."
You couldn't say it wasn't a fascinating detention, she thought, several hours later--- she'd rather lost track of time. In between grilling her ruthlessly on the properties of various magical ingredients, Snape had set her to performing a series of tests on different compounds under his watchful eye, and taking notes while he performed some of the more delicate experiments. She'd learned more about potions making in one evening than in a year of classes.
Mostly, she thought, keeping her face expressionless as she carefully measured wolfsbane into a solution of dragon's blood and moonflower, because Snape wasn't biting her head off the entire time. Apart from a few sharp remarks which seemed more out of habit than malice, he'd been... well, pleasant wasn't exactly a word you'd ever use about Professor Snape... but interesting. He'd been completely absorbed in his work, seeming almost to forget that she was there--- or that he was, that either of them were anything more than an extension of the lab equipment....
She sneaked a glance up at him: his dark eyes locked on the beaker, watching as the flecks of wolfsbane landed pinch by pinch in the compound, his long, thin fingers twitching slightly, one hand almost caressing the quill poised over the parchment on the table. The glint in his eyes was--- for once--- entirely devoid of anything like malice.
Realization hit her, almost making her hand shake on the vial she held. This is what he loves, she realized. This is what he'd do all the time if he could--- just research and study and experiment. The thought made her feel warm toward him--- the researcher's life had always appealed to her too.
Perhaps he heard her thoughts--- Harry occasionally swore that Snape could read minds, though she always thought that if that were the case, Gryffindor House would never get out of detention--- or at least felt her eyes on him, for he looked up, the cruel glitter back in his eyes. "Miss Granger, what is so interesting that you would take your eyes off your task, may I ask?"
"Sorry, sir," she said hastily, returning her eyes to the beaker before he could ask again.
He snorted. "Well, you've been here long enough--- there's only half an hour till curfew."
Now she did jump, and it was only quick reflexes that prevented her from spilling the whole vial of wolfsbane into the beaker. "Yes, you've certainly been here long enough--- any longer, and you'll ruin this evening's work with your clumsiness," he said sharply, getting to his feet and sweeping off toward his desk. "Clean up, and you're free to leave."
He settled behind his desk--- to grade papers, she presumed; she gathered the used beakers and other implements for washing in the basin, then started to put the ingredients back on their shelves, careful to return them to the places they'd been when she'd arrived.
"Well done," said a silky voice that she only barely recognized as Snape's. She'd never heard him use that silk except as a threat. Which this was anything but.
She nearly dropped the bottle of moonflower extract she'd been holding, turned to look at him.
He was sitting at his desk--- but not grading papers. His hands were steepled in front of him and he was regarding her moodily. "Most of your peers---" he said the word like an insult--- "would have shoved everything back on the shelves in as much haste and as little order as they could manage. You, on the other hand, take the time to organize."
The approval in his voice made her more nervous than his sarcasm ever had; she set the moonflower extract in its place with a shaking hand. "Thank you, sir."
It was a rather awkward moment; in the end, the only thing she could think of to do was to return to her task.
The last of the bottles was on its shelf before he spoke again. "Tell me something, Miss Granger," he said, volumes of irony this time in that silky voice; she turned to look at him, fighting a startled quiver. "Why couldn't you have had the decency to have at least one wizarding parent?" As she regarded him in shock, his lips twitched. "Even a grandparent might have been enough, in your case, for that blasted Sorting Hat to put you in Slytherin."
The floor suddenly wanted to wander out from under her feet; she leaned on the table nearest her. "Sir?"
"Slytherin could use a mind like yours," he said dryly, "instead of---" he broke off abruptly, his lips twitching, and she dared a comment.
"Crabbe and Goyle?"
His eyes darkened and for a second she feared she'd gone too far. Then his expression cleared and he snorted; it was almost a laugh. "Yes, those two goons... do you know, they always remind me that inbreeding is only effective when you cull for reinforced harmful recessives?"
The comment was so quintessentially Snape in its sarcasm--- and yet so unlike him for its frankness--- that it startled a laugh out of her. She met his eyes, and found that his thin lips had formed a sort-of smile.
Then the sarcastic glint was back in his eyes. "Yes, Miss Granger," he said, rather sharply--- with the effect of sobering her at once--- "I'm well aware of my House's failings, chief among them being the twin sins of racism and inbreeding--- though if you ever breathe a word of that fact to another living soul, you'll live to regret it."
If she hadn't been watching him closely, she'd have taken that statement as no more than his standard harshness. But she was, and so she saw the lines at the corners of his mouth and eyes deepen, the sudden harsh weight of exhaustion behind the sarcasm.
She remembered the night, after Harry had won the Tri-Wizard Tournament, when Snape had shown Cornelius Fudge the Dark Mark on his arm... when Dumbledore had sent him on some mysterious and dreadful errand. And suddenly, she thought she understood... everything.
"You're a double agent, aren't you?" she blurted--- then wanted to bite her tongue as he looked up at her, his eyes hard.
He got to his feet, and she had to fight not to shrink back from that menacing figure.
But he only stood behind his desk, regarding her narrowly. "Very good, Miss Granger. You have an eye for intrigue--- though apparently not the discretion for it." He came around the desk and stood in front of her, arms folded. "Yet another reason for me to wish you'd been in Slytherin--- a few months in the hallowed halls of the Serpents' Den would have honed the former and eliminated the latter." His eyes narrowed. "And need I tell you that tonight would be an excellent time for you to begin to practice that discretion?"
She shook her head, looking at the floor to avoid those probing eyes. "No, sir."
For a moment, all was silence. Then one long finger came under her chin, tipped her head back so that she had no choice but to meet his eyes.
For a moment, they regarded each other, she nervously, he with a rather inscrutable look of evaluation in his dark eyes. "The finest mind for wizarding I've seen in a decade of teaching," he said ruefully, "and it had to belong to a Gryffindor Muggle-born. What a waste."
Abruptly, he released her, turned his back and glided away. For a moment, all she could do was stare after him in astonishment as he made his way to his office.
At the door he stopped, turned back to her, an expression of annoyance on his face. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he snapped. "Dismissed."
Feeling obscurely and profoundly relieved by that display of temper, she left, in all seemly haste.
Well, one thing was certain, she thought dryly, as she made her way through the darkened halls of Hogwarts back to Gryffindor house, there was absolutely no way she was telling anyone what happened in the Potions classroom tonight.
Not unless she wanted a long stay at St. Mungo's and a lot of Calming Compound.
No one would ever believe a word of it.