i. the potions master

September 1st, 1980

Every button he finished felt like another inch added to his rising fortifications.

There were dozens of buttons—the small glass ones of his white shirt and waistcoat, the larger clasps of bone and jet on his coat and robes, lines marching along his torso, the outside of his arms, and the cuffs of his trousers like the markings of a bizarre vivisection. The fastenings of his trousers' placket were fashioned from wood, his belt's clasp made of brass. The laces on his dragonhide boots, still stiff and not yet malleable from use, were leather, and the black cravat cinched tight to his throat was silk.

He pushed each button into place one at a time. Of course, spells existed to complete the task, but Severus Snape opted to do it by hand. It gave him time to gather himself.

The man he'd apprenticed under, Master Hart Frangula, had recommended bone and jet for his coat and robes, the wizard having taught at Durmstrang for two years while he was apprenticed to the master there. "They hold Charms best," he'd explained to Severus. "And you'll be wanting Sticking Charms, lest some insolent toerag hit you with a Divesto in the middle of class."

Severus finished his coat and started on the left sleeve of his robes.

His fellow Death Eaters had laughed themselves sick when they heard of his appointment, calling him a greasy cauldron-stirrer and the ugliest schoolmarm they'd ever laid eyes on.

"Our Lord apparently needs a trained babysitter," Augustus Rookwood had snorted.

Bellatrix Lestrange had grabbed him by the hair, jerking his head back. "Look at him," she'd cackled. "Barely more than a baby boy himself!"

Severus thought himself very fortunate to not have to mingle with their circles very often. He finished one sleeve and moved to the next.

The Dark Lord had given him a rare piece of advice just yesterday afternoon. "You're one of my chosen, Severus, not a child," he'd said. "Don't allow them to treat you as one."

The implied message there had been the Dark Lord's impending displeasure should Severus make a fool of himself and fail in his duties.

Fuck being one of your chosen, Severus viciously thought as he finished off the last button and yanked the sleeve down into place over his hand. Fuck your advice, and fuck you, too.

However satisfying it was to tell off the Dark Lord in his own mind, Severus shoved those dangerous thoughts aside, lest they return at an inopportune time—say, when Voldemort had him by the throat, dragging through his head like a comb through tangled hair. Severus grimaced as he sat on the bed to fold down his trouser cuffs, the sheets left unmade after his arrival sometime after midnight last night. A house-elf would see to them after he left, no doubt, but Severus couldn't be arsed with the task at the moment.

He stood at last and surveyed himself in the full-length mirror.

Bit by bit, he sealed away his nerves and inexperience behind yards of black wool and Charmed buttons, though the figure before him still looked uncertain in his bearing, unaccustomed to the clothes and the sudden expectations laden upon his wide shoulders. His hair hung limp by his ears, not yet grown out from when Frangula had last forced him to cut it, and it did nothing to relieve the youth of his stern, unhappy face.

Behind him, two trunks and a box rested on the bare floor, not yet unpacked. The breakfast hour had passed, but the dungeons remained silent. Solemn. Just like their new master.

Severus had timed his return to Hogwarts so no one—not the Headmaster or groundskeeper or crotchety caretaker—would see his arrival or take note of his presence. A house-elf he didn't know the name of had led him to the quarters set aside for his use, then left him there alone to find what troubled sleep he could. Tomorrow, bright and early, Severus Snape would step into his classroom as Hogwarts' Potions Master for the first time.

But that was tomorrow. Today, as per Dumbledore's instructions, he had a staff meeting.

Severus inhaled through his nose, chest rising, then exhaled through his mouth, the breath sounding forced and coarse. "Bollocks," he muttered to his own reflection, tucking his wand away inside his tight sleeve. "Might as well get it over with."

He didn't bother to unpack or to even consider putting his spare robes into the ancient armoire before departing; perhaps on a subconscious level, he thought this all to be a joke. A wizard at twenty, his Mastery newly minted with the ink still fresh, should not be a professor. He would think the Headmaster shouldn't have time for this kind of jest, seeing as there was a fucking war on, but he'd never been able to understand Dumbledore's humor as a boy, and he doubted it had improved in the scant years he'd been shut of this place. Leaving his things in his trunks would be simpler if he was thrown out on his arse.

He emerged into the daylight from the lower levels, and his footsteps echoed in the entrance hall, the doors to the Great Hall open, the room beyond empty and barren. Severus paused to tuck a finger under his cravat and give it a futile tug, swearing under his breath. It was too tight. He didn't have time to retie it.

He remembered where the staff room was; he'd been there often enough in the past, usually to be told off for one thing or another. He could hear the voices within from the corridor, and he hit the door's hinges with a Silencing Charm so it would not announce his arrival with its ungodly screeching. He eased the door open and slipped inside.

The entirety of the school's staff sat in attendance already, and at the head of the table, resplendent in his crimson robes and gold-colored hat, was Albus Dumbledore himself. It made for a picturesque scene, if not for Severus' appearance; the summer morning shone through the mullioned windows, the smell of coffee, tea, and fresh pastries spun with sugar and fresh fruits redolent in the air. Snape himself was a black smudge among the more brightly dressed men and women congregating about the main table.

He had to be the youngest person there by a quarter-century.

The door came open enough to admit Severus, and he sidestepped into the room like a shadow creeping along the wall, and though no one else noticed the newcomer slinking into their midsts, Dumbledore did not miss a thing.

"I do not think we will have to worry about budgeting for a new brewing contract, Minerva," Dumbledore said with a strained smile, the Transfiguration instructor at his elbow scoffing as she set down her tea and broke off a piece of biscuit.

"Well, with Horace taking his leave at the last minute, Poppy's stores are doomed to be bare within a fortnight. What would you have us do then, Albus? Scramble at our own pockets to cover the extra surcharge?"

"No, no, not at all. Our new Potions Master is perfectly capable of brewing for our infirmary." His blue eyes found Severus again and seemed to pin the younger wizard there like a bug held to a board. "Isn't that right, Severus?"

By no means was it loud in the room while Dumbledore was speaking, but the mention of Snape's name spread silence like a plague, until Severus could hear the banging of his heart inside his own ears, a dozen heads swiveling like demented owls to find him standing by the entrance. He crossed his arms to hide the sudden twitch of his hands but otherwise kept his attention on the Headmaster.

The distrust was palpable; he sensed it in their expressions, these men and women who were once his teachers, their mouths tightening, bodies leaning ever so slightly away as if they'd spotted something alarming or foul. The silence pervaded and pressed into Severus' chest. McGonagall froze, and Flitwick's hand made a half-aborted move for his wand, the motion quick to fade but not quick enough for Severus to miss it.

He could sense their thoughts like physical weights.

Death Eater.

"Of course, Headmaster," he answered into the frigid hush.

"Good! I believe most of you know our Potions Master and new Head of Slytherin House, Severus Snape. It hasn't been long since he was a student of these halls himself."

The professors murmured various noises of assent, and Severus grit his teeth.

"He comes highly recommended by Master Hart Fragula, as well as Masters Borage and Pippet. I hope you will all welcome him warmly to our group and help him find his feet."

Severus wondered if Dumbledore was mocking him. Warmly. There was nothing warm there in that closeted room, nothing but thinly veiled contempt that had been fostered when he was a boy in their care and carried over with whispers of his allegiance.

It doesn't matter, Severus told himself, fingers pressing into his arms where he held them against his chest. They had not stopped staring, no matter that the Headmaster had moved the conversation on. Still, they stared. I didn't expect anything different. I am here to do a job, and that is it. He mustered his best sneer and held it on his face.

Most looked away like naughty children caught ogling the terrible Dark wizard—but McGonagall was not put off, her gaze narrowing behind her rectangular spectacles.

You've always hated me, he thought, returning her glare with unveiled malice. You've always despised me, you Gryffindor hellcat. You and those fucking Marauders—.

The meeting continued, the majority of which did not pertain to Severus and did not elicit his interest nor his attention. He considered slipping out before the rest, having done as Dumbledore requested in his letter and made his initial appearance, but the Headmaster's blue eyes held him with a silent, implicit demand to stay, and so Severus remained. He kept his head bowed and his gaze averted once the rest gathered their possessions and left.

He heard them begin whispering before they crossed the threshold.

"Severus," Dumbledore greeted, gesturing the younger wizard forward, and Severus went, standing in his uncomfortable boots with his cravat too tight, sweat building in the line of his poorly cut hair. "When did you arrive? I would have greeted you at the gates had you sent word ahead."

"I arrived last night, sir. It was quite late, and I saw no reason to disturb anyone."

Dumbledore folded his hands together, brow arched in clear disbelief. "Have you settled in?"

He thought of his trunks, still packed, the bed, unmade. He thought of lying awake on the naked mattress, staring at the ceiling, unable to quiet his mind. "Yes, sir."

Dumbledore studied him, and Severus wished he'd get to the point. "And have you anything else to tell me?"

"A-about him?"

"Yes, about him."

His jaw tightened. "No. His orders and expectations have not changed in the interim, sir."

"And his…goals?"

"The same." Severus' hands flexed, a subtle shift of movement he hid in the loose fabric of his new robes. "He is undeterred."

Sighing, Dumbledore eyed Severus, then the parchments on the table. "Very well," he said, and Severus didn't miss his disappointment. Disappointment in his new pet spy and his lack of information, no doubt. "We'll speak more later, then. I believe Horace left his lesson plans on his desk for your perusal."

His dismissal given, Severus bowed his head. "Of course, Headmaster."

He followed the path taken by the rest of the staff—his colleagues—from the door to the corridor once again, leaving behind the obnoxious morning sunlight and the wizard who never failed to make Severus think of his every fault and mistake. The door closed behind him with a subtle thump, and he drew himself short upon spotting McGonagall waiting just outside. She did not quell in fear under his stare; indeed, she returned it with equal intensity, and nervous sweat trickled across the nape of his neck.

"Mr. Snape," she said, voice cold, sharp.

"Professor Snape," he retorted. "I am not your student anymore."


He continued without another word to the witch, though he felt her stare itching between his shoulder blades until he reached the stairwell and started down the steps.

"You're one of my chosen, Severus, not a child. Don't allow them to treat you as one."

No, he wasn't a child; he was a Death Eater. A master. A traitor. A spy.

He forced his shoulders back, his spine straight, and ignored the sinking feeling in his gut or the tightness of his throat. Severus Snape walked through the halls of Hogwarts without emotion on his face, and his robes billowed like the wings of a great bat as he descended into the dungeons once more.

A/N: From Graves Somewhere is a prequel to my series, Certain Dark Things, and as such contains some mild spoilers and runs according to CDT canon. The story takes place between 1980 - 1984 and follows the slow dissolution of peace following the supposed defeat of the Dark Lord.

Severus: "I got this. No problem."

Mirror-Severus: "Press X to doubt."

Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter franchise or any of its recognizable elements. This is a fan-made creation made for fun, not for profit. Please support the official release.