[This is a work of ‘fanfiction’, essentially a tribute to the world created by JK Rowling. No infringement of copyright is intended, and neither is any commercial exploitation.]
Rose caught her breath sharply. Thankfully, everyone else in the room appeared to have done the same thing, so it wasn't exactly noticed. She had heard of Professor Snape of course – who hadn't? The anti-villain (if such a thing existed) of the war, the trusted lieutenant of Albus Dumbledore, the spy in Death Eater's clothing, the man who had contributed the most, barring Uncle Harry and Albus Dumbledore, to the defeat of Voldemort. She also knew he had died a very painful death in the Shrieking Shack some twenty years ago, which made the bringing up of his name rather surprising.
It was Rose's father who expressed what everyone at the table wanted to say:
“Of course we remember that greasy bat! I still wake up screaming when he pops into my nightmares. What does he have to do with all this?”
Again Rose noticed the hint of a smile on her Uncle Harry's face. He just couldn't resist a story well-told. Obviously Neville had also planned this speech well.
“I'll come to that, but you'll have to bear with me for a while yet. My part of the story really starts with my being an absolute troll at potions.”
“Common knowledge, old man,” said Rose’s father. “We still haven't figured out whether you were more scared of Snape or whether he was more scared you'd blow up his classrooms.”
“Err...yes, no need to rub it in, what? The point I was making was that despite my widely-acknowledged incompetence at potions, the job of a Herbology professor at Hogwarts all-too-often involves using potions on the plants to make them grow or otherwise aid in their development. So naturally when I started out I used to approach Professor Slughorn to make the required potions for me. When he left, I worked out a comfortable arrangement with his replacement, Nott.”
“That's Theo Nott from your year, isn't it?” asked Mr. Jordan.
“The same,” Neville replied with a nod. “One of the more decent chaps I've come across. He's more than competent at potions too. Well, about two years ago Nott decided to go out of the country for the school vacations – to South America to study ingredients derived from the Amazonian rain forests. Around two weeks after he'd left I found myself facing an emergency in the greenhouse – the Circean herbs were in danger of dying out if I didn't administer them a draught of the Molius Swineous. Now it's a devilish difficult potion to brew and no one I knew was too confident of doing it well. Nott was not contactable in whatever dark corner of the world he was in, so I took off to Diagon Alley and put out an S.O.S. at Flourish and Botts – who directed me to Knockturn Alley. I won't go into how many shops I had to pass through that said the same thing – the gist was that there was a recently-opened artifact house which supplied potions on an 'advance-order' basis. Since there didn't seem to be any other option, I put a hand on my wand and ventured into Knockturn. The place is called “Sheila's Sorcery” and seems to deal mostly in relics from shipwrecks. Sheila is a very attractive lady who dresses like someone from the seventeenth century and she did take the order. Sure enough, two days later, the potion was delivered to my window by Owl. It worked wonderfully well – in fact was more effective than anything Theo's come up with since I've known him. So the next time I needed something, I ordered with Sheila again -”
“Are we sure that Sheila being a very attractive lady had nothing to do with your ordering from her again?” asked Parvati, smiling.
“Quite sure,” laughed Neville, “because I sent the second order by owl. This potion was quite perfect as well, so I began to order more and more difficult concoctions just to see whether they could be made and not once did I get anything less than a perfect potion. Finally I ordered Wolfsbane and got a note from Sheila saying 'Our potion maker has asked us to inform you that if you wish to continue testing his abilities, he can send you a vial of Morticentum which is not only the most difficult-to-brew potion known to Wizardkind, but will cure you of your idle curiosity by killing you in exactly as many hours as you consume drops of it.' I didn't order any more after that, as you can imagine and managed with Theo's potions.”
“Now I'd heard of this wonderful potion maker from Knockturn Alley myself, though it never occurred to me to use his services since I have access to the Ministry resources. I met Neville for dinner when I returned from Germany and we ended up discussing the case,” Harry said as Neville paused, “over a bottle of Old Smee's Port. That was when Neville remembered the note he had received.”
“So you think it was this Morti-whatever that was used to do in Hubstein?” asked Mr. Jordan.
“It definitely sounded more likely than anything else I'd tried to fit to the facts of the case till then,” said Harry, “so when Neville mentioned it, I knew I had to find out more about this potion. It wasn't in any of our schoolbooks obviously – I immediately owled Hermione but even she had never heard of it, nor anyone in the Auror department. So we found ourselves in another fix – until Neville suggested the obvious – asking the mysterious potion-maker himself.”
“So we went to Knockturn Alley,” continued Neville, “and asked Sheila if we could send an owl to her supplier. She flatly refused, saying that she herself had only ever communicated with him via his owl which used to make two trips to her shop every day – one to pick up orders and another to deliver the potions. She had no idea what the chap looked like or where he lived. Naturally that got us rather disappointed so we decided to go to a shady bar in Knockturn Alley to cheer ourselves up by drinking” - here Rose was very sure she heard Aunt Ginny groan - “ a few glasses of whiskey. It was after we'd had our seventh glass...”
“His seventh, my fourth,” Harry cut in hastily.
“No, I'm quite sure that...”
“Neville doesn't know what he's talking about. Anyway the point is that we were in the shady bar, drinking within acceptable limits, when I had a brilliant plan. Sheila had said that the owl to deliver the pending orders arrived punctually at four every afternoon. Now it was obvious that the owl would return to its master – so what was to prevent us from following the owl on a broom.”
“The fact that it's a perfectly harebrained idea!” exclaimed Hermione. “You can't follow an owl on a broom. They fly too fast and too high!”
“Not if you're the finest Seeker to ever play for Gryffindor, apparently,” said Neville, with a sardonic smile. “At least we didn't think so then.”
“You were totally drunk, weren't you?” asked Ron.
“Completely. I passed out in the bar itself and Harry took hold of his trusted Thistle 75 and set off to follow an owl.”
“The thing about flying through clouds is that they're cold and watery and tend to wake you up,” said Harry, “so after about an hour of flying behind that dratted bird I was quite sober again and cursing myself for getting drunk enough to venture into this. Having said that, I was keeping up with the owl and figured I might as well see it through. I won't go into details about the flight – just trust me when I say that I've had Crucios fired at me which didn't hurt nearly as much. Finally the owl landed in a desolate spot of land in what I later found out was Yorkshire. I was glad to land – I literally felt frozen. I saw the owl disappear into a smallish cottage – little better than a hut, really - surrounded by a sparse hedge. A few warming spells later I felt up to facing whatever was inside. There's never a proper way to intrude on a Wizard who clearly does not want to be intruded on, so I just barged inside.”
“Hang on a second!” Ron had his hand raised.
“Yes?” asked Harry.
“If I get the drift of this story right, you're about to tell me that you barged into an isolated cottage that housed Professor Snape, who should be dead – and that you came out of it alive? I'm sorry mate, are you sure you two didn't just dream it in your drunken stupor?”
“Five minutes after meeting him, that's precisely what I wished it was. But no – why take away another man's story? Yes, I did meet our former Potions professor who is very much alive and he didn't assassinate me though I won't deny it was a close thing” - Harry stopped to consult his watch - “and if my watch is correct, that should be him right about now come to tell us how stupid we all are.”
Rose started as, almost as if on cue, the door to the room grunted open and let in a tall man dressed in black robes. Rose stared at him through the Invisibility Cloak, with the same open-mouthed wonder that she knew was on the faces of most of the other people present there.
It was left to her mother to articulate what they were all thinking.
“You cannot be Professor Snape. You died. I SAW YOU DIE!”
The man raised an eyebrow at her. He no longer had the thick black hair from the pictures that Rose had seen of him. They were greyer now and less greasy. His face was as pale as before, though more lined with age and Rose couldn't help but notice the slight stoop in his gait. His expression of barely-masked contempt hadn't changed though – Rose had heard it referred to too often not to recognise it now when this history-book figure had jumped out at them like this.
“How very typical, Miss Granger – no, Mrs. Weasley now, isn't it? Didn't you ever wonder why no body was ever found? Or did you assume that the Death Eaters had disposed of it? You always had all the information required but never the intelligence to put it together,” he said in a smooth teasing voice like melting butter. Rose found herself torn between feeling angry at the insult to her mother and a desire to laugh at the expression on her face.
To Rose's surprise, it was her father who spoke next.
“Horcrux! You created one when you killed Professor Dumbledore!”
“I'm quite impressed, Weasley. Marriage seems to have considerably increased your intelligence.”
“But that's the most dreadful dark magic! How could you possibly...” Hermione's voice trailed off as Snape raised his wand. Rose could see both Uncle Harry and Neville instinctively reach for theirs.
“The world isn't divided into good people and those who know dark magic, Mrs. Weasley, as an old adversary of mine might have once told you, though maybe not in those words. To know the Dark Arts is not to embrace the ideals they embody. Yes, I did create a Horcrux. Yes, it was when I...had to kill him.” His voice seemed to trail off at the end, almost as though he was reluctant to relive that particular episode.
“But then...that still leaves so many questions...”
Snape walked over to an empty chair and seated himself.
“I don't have the time to answer all your questions, Mrs. Weasley, and I'm sure no one else does either. Mr. Potter has forced me to reveal my presence to you due to some misguided notion of his...”
“I think it's very important that you put your talents to better use than running a mail order potions business, Professor Snape,” said Harry softly but firmly, “and as an outfit that proudly claims to be inspired by the late Albus Dumbledore, we feel we would do well to be guided by the only man who knew his methods and whom he trusted to preserve and take his life.”
“Some outfit!” came the reply accompanied by a sneer. “Mediocre Wizards, most of you. A radio-show host, a model, a naturalist, a joke-shop owner. This menagerie is the self-appointed guardian of the Wizarding world?”
“It worked for us before, Professor,” said Neville, “and there's no reason why it won't again. The Dark Lord recruited only the most talented pureblood Wizards and look where he ended up.”
“The Dark Lord miscalculated a few things.”
“Like Harry's being able to defeat him,” said Ginny, pride flashing in her eyes.
“Ah...Mrs. Potter. Strangely, you're probably the only one here who actually had a talent for potions. It was indeed fortunate that your husband managed, mostly through sheer dumb luck, to claim possession of the Elder Wand. In any case, if he hadn't succeeded, Mr. Longbottom here, whose reckless courage I have always acknowledged from the fact that he attended Potions class despite the imminent danger of blowing up himself and half the castle with him, had taken care of the last Horcrux. The reason I ensured I created one for myself was so that I could have killed the Dark Lord when the time came and he was exulting over his so-called victory. That too was part of his plan.”
“It was part of Professor Dumbledore's plan to have you create a Horcrux?” asked Ron, incredulously.
“Yes. You could call it his back-up plan. Mr. Potter being a Horcrux, had to die at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Professor Dumbledore wanted me to kill him so that I should posses the Elder Wand, which would allow me to defeat the Dark Lord if the need arose. When Malfoy made a mockery of our plans by disarming him, the last command he gave me was by opening his mind to my legilimency and telling me to ensure I created a Horcrux – he had a feeling I might need one.”
“It's all rather far-fetched,” said Hermione, narrowing her eyes. “Where have you been for all these years, then?”
“My dear Miss Granger, were you really expecting me to waltz back in the Wizarding World trying to explain my innocence? It took Mr. Potter five years to convince the Wizengamot to clear my name posthumously! I was a known Death Eater and had no desire to wait in Azkaban until the trial concluded. For all I knew, even if there was a trial it was not likely anyone would rise up to my defense. I suspect Mr. Potter would not have either if he had not thought me dead and gone. I travelled for a while, visited India, Arabia and Central Africa. On my return, I found it convenient to disappear into oblivion, apart from the potions business that was necessary to make some money. Until Potter here, whose tendency to meddle into people's lives is legendary, came sailing in through my window and threatened to print a story about my existence in the Daily Prophet if I didn't agree to be a part of this doomed world-saving venture of his.”
“I came in through the door, actually,” said Harry in a reassuring tone.
“Uninvited and unwanted,” the older man spat.
“But not altogether unwelcome, eh, Professor Snape? After all having crazy Lucius and sulky Draco Malfoy as the only other person you can speak to must not be much fun.”
“So Draco's known about you all these years?” asked Luna. “He didn't mention it when we last met.”
“I can only assume it's one of those things he isn't particularly proud of,” said Ron.
“Yes, Mr. Malfoy has known about me, since he's not quite as unintelligent as Mr. Potter here in noticing why he occasionally has certain dreams.”
“Malfoy was your Horcrux?” asked Hermione.
“There were only two people present when Dumbledore died. I needed to make a Horcrux of a living person so that I could be revived by transferring the piece of soul directly to my dead body – far easier than that convoluted spell used by the Dark Lord. If anyone of you present here thinks I would have shared a soul with Potter, you're even stupider than I remember you to be.”
“Look, Harry, regardless of how this eminently disposable relic from our past got here, I still don't understand WHY he is!” protested Parvati.
“A part of me would have liked nothing better than to leave him cooped up in his little cottage on that desolate moor, Parvati, but after hearing what he had to tell me about the Hubstein case, I realised I had no choice but to bring him into our little group meeting. There's more to it than meets the eye.”
“There always is, Miss Patil. You're still Miss Patil of course. Yes? What Mr. Potter is trying to tell you is that he was too stupid to figure out that Mr. Hubstein was murdered, but not by his so-called mistress. He's been murdered by a Muggle organisation called the Routers. He's neither their first victim nor is he likely to be the last.”
“A Muggle 'organisation'? What exactly are you talking about, Professor?” asked Hermione.
“Visit your parents lately, Miss Granger – if you'll excuse my calling you that? If you do, you will find a very useful contraption at their home called a 'computer' which connects to something called 'the internet'. I'd suggest you use it once in a while. It's responsible for the breaking of the International Statute of Secrecy and that is why, as I told Potter here, there are Muggles in the world who know about us – resent us – and want to destroy us.”