Honest Trifles (Ch. 3 of Returning Were As Tedious)
It’s taken me long enough, but this is Chapter Three of my Snape fic, Returning Were As Tedious. I’ve already posted Chapter One (Prologue: Things That Do Sound So Fair), and what’s probably Chapter Seventeen (Take Any Shape But That). I’ll work on Chapter Two next. As soon as it’s done I’ll begin posting the story on one of the archive sites (probably starting with Phoenix Song). As with all the other chapters in this story, the title is taken from Macbeth.
Chapter Title: Honest Trifles (Ch. 3 of Returning Were As Tedious)
Length: About 4,000 words
Genre: Marauders Era; A bit angsty with some comedy thrown in
Rating: G (this chapter); PG-13 (entire fic)
Fic Summary: “I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” (Macbeth, III.iv.160-162). The education, life and times of Severus Snape, with particular attention to the unhappy confusion of his affections and his relations with the Dark Arts
Returning Were As Tedious
But ’tis strange;
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.
Severus stood in the antechamber with the other damp, frightened, hopeful eleven-year-olds and waited. He was standing apart, not having spoken to anyone even though he’d shared a train compartment with five other new students and had crowded with several others on one of those boats.
He could see that some of the others already knew each other, though, or else had struck up sudden friendships. A black-haired boy with glasses was cracking jokes with another, whose wry, ironic smirk made him look a few years older than he must be. The smirking boy occasionally glanced with narrowed eyes at a black-haired girl whose own eyes looked half-shut; when their eyes made contact, they both scowled. Severus didn’t think they could have grown to dislike each other on the train; he guessed that they had some history. Or he could be wrong; maybe they had disliked each other on sight. The black-haired girl paced the room impatiently, finally arriving in front of Severus. She looked at him as if wondering what he was doing there.
“You don’t like that boy,” he observed, and then was shocked that he had made so personal a remark. But it was plain for everyone to see; she couldn’t imagine that no one had noticed.
She looked at him appraisingly, evidently thinking the same things he was. “Yes,” she said succinctly. “He’s my cousin Sirius. He hasn’t a ‘serious’ bone in his body, though. You can’t take anything he says as if he means it. You can’t trust him.” This was a lot to be told all at once, but Severus supposed he had invited it.
“I’m Severus Snape,” he said, cautiously extending a hand.
“Bellatrix Black,” she answered, taking it. “I’m going to be a Slytherin.”
“Really?” he was surprised. “How do you know?”
“Pretty much all the Blacks are Slytherins, except for my stupid sister Andromeda; she wound up in Ravenclaw. But if you don’t count her, we’re all in the Green ‘n Silver. It’s in the blood.” Severus had an unbidden vision of green and silver blood flowing through Bellatrix’s veins; green in some veins, silver in others. From what his mother had told him about the Sorting, Severus doubted that Bellatrix could really know; yet her certainty was almost palpable, and he found himself believing her despite himself.
“My mother’s a Hufflepuff,” said Severus. “Do you think that means I’ll end up there?” Several feet behind Bellatrix, a thin, mousy-haired, nervous-looking girl abruptly squinted at Severus, as if trying to make sure she saw him properly.
“Could be,” said Bellatrix, her eyelids descending a bit more. “But I think it has more to do with your personality. The Blacks are Slytherins because we think wizards and Muggles should be separate from each other. Also because we’re good at strategy and tactics.”
“But not your sister?” he asked. He could now see the mousy-haired girl nod to herself and begin walking in their direction.
Bellatrix’s nostrils pinched together as if there were a bad smell. “Andromeda hasn’t the brains for strategy.”
The nervous-looking girl reached them at about this moment.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But you’re Severus Snape, aren’t you?” Severus nodded, surprised. “I’m Eliza Chanter. I think our mothers were friends at school.” She stuck out her hand awkwardly.
Severus returned the gesture politely. Now he remembered; his mother had told him that her friend Mary’s daughter would be starting Hogwarts at the same time he was, and she’d asked him to make a point of greeting her. “All the first years will be nervous and probably homesick,” she’d said. “It’ll be nice to have a friend at the start.”
“How did you know who I was?” he asked. Bellatrix had turned to look at Eliza as if she were an unusual species of plant she was trying to classify.
“You look a bit like your mother when she was younger,” said Eliza. “My mum’s got several pictures of her. I’ve also seen a picture of your da, and you look like him too.” Severus frowned a bit at the mention of his father. At first it struck him as strange that Mary Chanter would have such pictures; then it struck him the other way, and he wondered why he’d never seen pictures of Mary or his mother’s other friends.
“How do you like it so far?” he asked Eliza. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bellatrix roll her eyes as if he’d just asked the most boring question on earth.
“I’m nervous about the Sorting,” Eliza replied simply. “I’m glad to know someone here.”
“Are you a pureblood?” Bellatrix asked Eliza suddenly.
The thin girl looked startled. “My parents are both magical,” she said.
“But are their any Muggleborns in your family tree?” Bellatrix pressed.
“I, um, don’t know my family tree very well, not past my grandparents,” admitted Eliza, chewing her lip.
“Everyone should know their family tree,” said Bellatrix authoritatively. Eliza looked ashamed and backed away from Bellatrix by a step or two.
Severus said nothing, neither agreeing with Bellatrix nor defending Eliza. He didn’t know his family tree past the grandparents either, and of course Tobias was a Muggle. What Bellatrix would say about his background he thought he could guess, and at this instant he didn’t want to hear her reaction. He kept his mouth shut.
Eventually the doors opened and the green-clad witch he had seen before led the children were led into the great hall. Severus was aware of long tables full of students, all eyes on him and his fellow first-years. He tried not to think about them and kept his eyes focused ahead.
The witch approached a stool on a platform that sat before the head table. She carried a battered old hat. At her approach there were a number of quiet gasps and other expressions of surprise from some of the tables. One or two students even gave a brief hand-clapping applause. Severus didn’t understand what they were reacting to; hadn’t any of them seen a hat before?
When the witch had placed the hat upon the stool, the thing began to sing:
“Each step you take begins a path
Whose end you cannot see.
And on the next, important step,
Your only guide is me!
I’ll sort you into Houses all;
I’m sure to fit you right.
So on the path to destiny
Your steps begin tonight!
While it’s my job to find the House
That fits you like a glove,
Selection will depend upon
The sort of thing you love.
“The Slytherins love purity
Of background, life and art,
And a sentimental heart.
The Gryffindors love passion,
Whether love, or will, or deed;
To conquer fear with glory
Is the lion’s deepest need.
The Hufflepuffs love loyalty
And friendship deep and long;
Their fruits of patient diligence
Are honest, just and strong.
The Ravenclaws love complex lore
And knowledge that is true.
Solutions to life’s mysteries
They’ll endlessly pursue.
“These loves become complex and strong
As others help you grow.
The man or woman leaves these halls
Won’t be the child you know.
And who knows where this choice may lead,
What your strong love will do?
Worlds are saved and empires wrecked
By such as start like you.
Historians of ages hence
May wonder how your deeds
Began with such a little thing:
A hat, a song, a seed!
“So mount the step and grasp your choice
(It’s your choice more than mine).
Search your heart and mind and soul
For the revealing sign!
Be brave, be smart, be loyal, pure!
Be crafty, clever, strong!
Together we will find the place
Where you will best belong.
And when you’ve found your dearest friends,
And see your future bright,
You’ll thank me, yes you surely will,
And know I’m always right!”
Then the witch in green opened a scroll she’d had hidden in her sleeve. From it she read, “Avery, Milton.”
A smallish boy with dirty-blond hair shakily climbed the steps to the platform on which the hat sat. The witch placed the hat on his head. After about thirty seconds (it seemed a lot longer), the bat bellowed, “SLYTHERIN!” and a roar of applause from one of the tables met the announcement. The boy, prodded by the professor, went to join his cheering housemates.
“Black, Bellatrix.” The girl apparently had been right about Blacks, for the hat called “SLYTHERIN!” almost immediately.
“Black, Sirius.” The wry boy gave his black-haired companion a thumbs-up sign and mounted the stairs with a swagger. He seemed to sit under the hat for quite some time before it announced, “GRYFFINDOR!” There was applause from a second table, but the Slytherins were visibly shocked and a few of them even gasped. Bellatrix, whom Severus could see, stared with her mouth hanging open. As he stepped towards his House table, Sirius Black pointedly caught his cousin’s eye with a look that said, So there.
“Chanter, Eliza.” The mousy-haired girl gave Severus a quick, nervous smile and then went to her fate. The hat called, “HUFFLEPUFF!” and she was visibly relieved to join her mother’s House.
After two or three others were sorted into Ravenclaw, the witch called for “Evans, Lily.” A girl with dark red hair, standing just a few feet from Severus, turned to mount the stairs; as she did so, he caught sight of the most striking green eyes he had ever seen. He was still thinking about them when the hat called “GRYFFINDOR!” He felt a slight pang of regret that he could not identify.
Sometime later, the name “Potter, James” was called. The boy with the glasses, to whom Bellatrix’s cousin Sirius had been speaking earlier, strode to the platform and up to the chair with a grin on his face. To Severus it seemed that Potter took the sorting as just one more in a string of pleasant events; he seemed somehow sure that nothing unfortunate could ever happen to him. There was something unbearably cocksure about his manner, as if all the doubts, fears and uncertainties that crowded Severus’s mind were utterly foreign to him. This one never had a father who hated wizards; this one didn’t even know such things existed, and wouldn’t care if he did. This was one of those who have always had everything they wanted, and who always will.
“GRYFFINDOR!” The hat announced, and James Potter smiled as if he’d just been rewarded for something clever he’d done. As Potter sauntered over to the table, Severus saw him lock eyes with Lily Evans, the green-eyed girl, and nod slightly, smiling even more broadly. Without understanding why, Severus felt himself grow hot for an instant.
Soon it was Severus’s own turn. He mounted the steps warily, as if he expected them to be trap doors. The witch in green waited patiently, managing to look encouraging without smiling. He sat and the world went dark.
“Interesting, interesting,” muttered a voice that seemed to come from behind him, but which he was sure he was hearing in his head. “Such a lot of things you’re afraid of. That doesn’t much help the task, though; now, if we had a House of Fear…”
Very funny, thought Severus. No one else comes here afraid of anything.
“Never said that, never said that,” came the surprising response. “Very good mind you’ve got; you could make good use of it. A lot of capacity for hard work, too – and I see that you’re very loyal. Then again there’s Gryffindor…” Of a sudden, the face of the girl with the green eyes – Lily, was it? – flashed into his mind. The hat pounced on it immediately: “There are interesting people in Gryffindor.”
I thought you said I was afraid of everything, Severus responded sourly.
“Never said that either. Anyway, those who can master their fear are the most courageous. You might make a fine Gryffindor.”
Now the faces of Bellatrix’s smirking cousin and the cocksure Potter came into his head. I’m not a show-off.
“As you say,” said the voice with a touch of exasperation. “What is it you want, then? That’s usually the best way.”
I want, Severus thought slowly, to be with my own kind.
“Your own kind? But what’s your own kind? Half wizard, half Muggle, which is it?”
I am NOT a Muggle! Severus shot back. I want nothing to do with Muggles!
“After a spot of uniformity, are we? Want to be protected from the fearful Muggle world, a poor, defenseless wizard like you?”
“Very well, very well, it’ll suit you as well as anything. You seem to hunger for brutal honesty, and you want to avoid entanglements that will obligate you. There’s a good side and a bad side to everything, and you’d do well to remember that. But the best we can do for you is – SLYTHERIN!”
The table erupted in applause, the hat was removed from his head, and Severus walked over to it, just as carefully as before. He was clapped on the back by several upperclass students, and the ones who’d got in before him gave him smiles of genuine congratulations. A tall, slim, blond, older boy with a Prefect’s badge and a charming smile stood and shook his hand.
After the last student – “Ybarra, Josef” – was sorted into Ravenclaw, the Headmaster stood and called for attention. He looked, Severus thought, rather like an antique statue of a wizard from another age. Severus had the impression that Professor Dumbledore would stand, unmoving and unmoved, if a hurricane raged around him; he also thought that the statue would fail to notice when the storm tore the ground from underneath it and toppled it into the sea.
“Good evening, and welcome to another year at school,” the Headmaster began jovially. “I do not wish to take up too much of your time, which must seem to be dragging considerably as your stomachs remind you the lateness of the hour and the number of minutes that have elapsed since lunch. However, I must beg your indulgence, since, as most of you know, this my first speech before the school as Headmaster. I must say that the office is very pleasant, although I hope not to see many of you there this term; I also seem to have access to a wider variety of sweets than previously, which is certainly a welcome development. At any rate, I do not expect immediately to make any sudden, sweeping changes; the administration of Professor Dippett was highly competent and I imagine that we shall continue on with most of them.
“I do wish to say, however, that I shall be perhaps more persistent about making sure that some of the existing rules are obeyed. For example, we have a long-standing rule at Hogwarts that students are not to be subject to mistreatment because of their ancestry or parentage. This is a very old rule, going back to the days of the Founders themselves, and applies to the behavior of teachers, staff and students. Professor Dippett, no doubt because his attention was focused on so many other important administrative concerns, was not as vigorous as he might have been in enforcing this particular regulation. I, on the other hand, shall treat such infractions with rather less than good humor.” Dumbledore’s voice remained light, and his smile did not waver, but something about the expression in his eyes when he made this last remark made Severus uneasy.
“Now to matters of staffing,” continued the Headmaster. “As you know, I have served as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher ever since Professor McGonagall joined us as Transfiguration teacher fourteen years ago, and I have been Head of Gryffindor House for many years indeed. It shall be impossible for me to continue in either of those capacities any longer, for obvious reasons. No doubt the older students observed Professor McGonagall’s participation in the Sorting Ceremony, and I gather that some of you deduced that she is now to be Deputy Headmistress; in addition, she shall take over as Head of Gryffindor House.”
Applause broke out from the Gryffindor table and elsewhere. The stern-looking witch in green looked down at her plate, clearly making an effort not to smile.
The Headmaster beamed. “My sentiments exactly. As to the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, I have received many applications from highly qualified wizards, although some I was forced not to consider seriously.” A shadow seemed to pass over Dumbledore’s face, but it vanished almost immediately. He continued, “I hope you will all join me in welcoming my replacement in that position, Professor Hawthorn.”
A very tall, slender, dark-skinned wizard in rich, garnet robes stood and bowed slightly from the waist. His large, dark brown eyes seemed to absorb everything in the room at once; Severus had the feeling that Professor Hawthorn would remember the face of each and every student in the room the next day. It was like being examined by a falcon. There was polite applause, not so enthusiastic as before – except that Severus noticed two or three students at the Ravenclaw table clapping especially loudly, as if they knew something the rest of the school didn’t.
“As most of you know,” Professor Dumbledore continued, ticking off items on the fingers of his left hand rather quickly. “The Forbidden Forest is off limits; magic is not to be used in the corridors between classes; pets must be registered with the groundskeeper; brooms must be registered with the Quiddich coach; proposals of marriage are not to be made before the end of final examinations; and – ” Severus looked up at that, but the Headmaster did not appear to notice that he had said anything unusual – although he now appeared to sprout a sixth finger on his left hand. “You must all begin to eat at once.”
The Headmaster’s smile had become mischievous and he sat down rapidly, taking roast beef from a platter that had not been there before. Severus looked down at the table and saw that it was suddenly full of food. He found several vegetables, some hard rolls and a small piece of fish, which he arranged carefully on his plate before eating. Although pumpkin juice was available, he preferred to take water.
“You’re not having any of the good stuff,” said another of the new boys, whom Severus recalled as “Rosier, Evan.” He, apparently, was having most of the “good stuff;” his plate was a precarious, mismatched collection of rich dishes that made Severus slightly queasy as he looked at it.
“I’m keeping myself healthy,” said Severus simply. “Food is fuel for the body.”
“Well, yes,” said Rosier after swallowing a mouthful of lamb. “But there’s no reason the fuel can’t be tasty. Does this mean you’ll be skipping dessert?”
“That depends; is there any fruit?” Rosier rolled his eyes at that.
As he was eating, Severus noticed that the blond prefect who had shaken his hand earlier was walking up and down the table, finding the first year students and greeting them individually. Finally he stopped behind the seat of an upper class student who was sitting across from Severus.
“Welcome, young Severus. I’m Lucius Malfoy. It’s a pleasure to welcome one more to the House of the Clear-Sighted. This is Narcissa Black,” he said of a pale blonde girl who followed him, also wearing a prefect’s badge, who was looking possessively at Lucius rather than at Severus. “I think you may have already met her young sister Bellatrix.” Lucius gestured at Bellatrix, who was sitting three seats down from Severus. She looked up from her plate and nodded without comment. Severus didn’t see the resemblance.
Lucius looked at Severus expectantly; clearly he was supposed to say something.
“What do you mean by ‘clear sighted?’” asked Severus at length.
This question seemed to please Lucius; he smiled mildly, gesturing to the student behind whose chair he was standing. The other fellow, upon seeing the gesture, looked with some regret at a half-eaten piece of Yorkshire pudding, then left his seat, allowing Lucius to sit down.
Then Lucius answered, “‘Clear sighted,’ means: not captured by illusions; not subject to self-deception. It means, not pretending that there is any such thing as ‘altruism,’ rather than acting in one’s own enlightened self-interest.”
Severus digested this. “And altruism means, working for the interests of others?”
“Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to mean.”
Severus thought of his mother. “Aren’t there people who really do act for others? Who are selfless?”
“No,” said Lucius, as if this were exactly what he had expected Severus to say. “They appear to act for others. In reality, though, they act ‘altruistically’ because it makes them feel good to do it. They are serving their own good – in this case, the ‘good’ they experience from the rush of self-congratulations and self-importance that results from these ‘selfless’ acts. But many deceive themselves that they are acting without interest in themselves. They are not clear-sighted. None of them are Slytherins. Our Head of House, Professor Slughorn, frequently does beneficial, helpful things for people – but he always knows what’s in it for him.”
Still thinking of his mother, Severus asked, “What about parents who act in the interests of their children?”
“Ah,” said Lucius with evident pleasure. “That, too, is self-interest. There can be nothing closer to a person’s own good then the survival and success of his own blood. When a parent acts for a child, he is protecting his line, which is surely his own highest interest. Slytherins, of course, pay special attention to their blood lines; purity of blood is our highest priority. The wizarding world, don’t you agree, is polluted by the influence of Muggle blood?”
Severus thought of his father and was very uncomfortable. He began to think the Hat had made a mistake with him. How could his House accept him if he had Tobias’s blood in him?
“Ah,” said Lucius again, very softly, leaning across the table so that only Severus could hear him. “Half-blood, are you? One of your parents is a Muggle?”
“Father,” muttered Severus, ashamed
“Don’t worry, Severus my friend. You were sorted into Slytherin; I am sure that you value the purity of blood. I can tell from your face that you wish your father weren’t a Muggle. This flaw in your background I am sure you will overcome. Take heart; we’ll all help you.”
Severus looked up into Lucius’s grey eyes. Lucius was smiling, and Severus felt more genuine acceptance than he’d ever felt from anyone except his mother. He could also tell that Lucius was calculating what value Severus might be to him, Lucius. But that was appropriate, wasn’t it? Lucius, of all people, wasn’t going to deceive himself about his intentions.
Then something else occurred to him. “But what about what the Headmaster said about ancestry and parentage?”
Lucius made a derisive noise and waived his hand as if swatting a fly. “Dumbledore? That was a typical sort of remark, coming from him. The man has no sense of priorities when it comes to the larger social Wizarding world. How on earth he managed to become Head, when there were other qualified candidates like Slughorn available, is one of the mysteries of the age.”