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Out-of-Order Chapter, "Returning Were As Tedious" -- "Take Any Shape But That"

Out-of-Order Chapter, "Returning Were As Tedious" -- "Take Any Shape But That"

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My original plan was to write the chapters to my Snape story in sequence, but I've also found that certain images keep crowding themselves into my head, and I know better than to ignore them.  So I wrote what I thought was just a short snippet from one of the later chapters of the story (somewhere around Chapter 15), a pivotal moment in the story.  I like much of it, and I'm surprised (and a little scared) at how easy it seems to be to get into Severus's head.  Anyway, I've not given this to The Great Beta yet, and I'm certain that I'll have to revise it considerably once I write the intervening thirteen chapters.

But I offer it for what it's worth.  The chapter title is, "Take Any Shape But That."

Returning Were As Tedious

Chapter 15 (or so)
Take Any Shape But That
What man dare, I dare. 
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, 
The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger; 
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble. Or be alive again, 
And dare me to the desert with thy sword; 
If trembling I inhabit then, protest me 
The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!
                        Macbeth III.iv.117-125
Severus entered the Great Hall in a bad humor and walked directly to the Head Table, looking neither to the left nor to the right. “Bad humor” seemed to be all he ever felt these days, and sitting next to Quirrell every night during term didn’t make it any better. The man had become irritating to the point of fury; it was like having an insect crawling on a part of your back you couldn’t reach. The twitching, the stuttering, the nervous jumping, and above all the nauseating obsequiousness made Severus want to reach out and slap him. To think, to think, that Dumbledore had elected this insignificant fribble as the Defense Against the Dark Arts master was unbearable, even humiliating. Spending the summer back at Spinner’s End had been at least a minor relief, but as soon as he had returned and seen the idiot’s ridiculously turbaned head he’d been seized with the desire to turn him into the rabbit he already resembled.
And yet – Severus had the nagging feeling that there was something he didn’t understand about the man, something he was missing. The fear and nervousness seemed just a drop too extreme, too constant. It was as if Quirrell was not merely nervous, but actually in mortal fear of something, while at the very same time he seemed on the verge of giggles, as if he knew something terribly pleasing that he wasn’t telling anyone. What could make a man both terrified and tickled? A highly amusing executioner? A playful poisonous spider?   (No, that was more Hagrid’s style, he thought sourly.)   It aggravated Severus still more that he could not solve this puzzle.
The upperclass students had already taken their seats and the Sorting was soon to begin. Severus knew – indeed, he could hardly help knowing; the staff wouldn’t shut up about it – that Harry Potter would be walking through that door with the other first-years tonight. Harry Potter. Severus had tried not to imagine what Lily’s son would look like, had done his best to avoid remembering that the boy even existed. Part of him had nursed a hope that some accident would befall Harry Potter, or that he would turn out to be a Squib, or that he would reject the wizarding world, or even that Severus himself would somehow become incapacitated before this day. To face Harry Potter would be to face his crime again, to fondle his own catastrophic stupidity and to slash open again the wounds inflicted when Lily died. Another, very different part of him even thought he ought to apologize to the boy for robbing him of his mother. But he recoiled in disgust from this idea.
The Hat went through its customary silly, pointless bit of doggerel and the ceremony began. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the figures who took the seat and disappeared under the Hat. A bushy-haired girl named Granger, who had Ravenclaw written all over her, unaccountably was sorted into Gryffindor; Severus wondered whether a magical artifact could become senile. Draco Malfoy, Lucius and Narcissa’s son, was instantly sorted into Slytherin, as were the sons of Crabbe and Goyle. To Severus’s eye it seemed that young Draco already held the two larger boys in thrall. The blonde boy seemed delighted to be in Severus’s house; Severus wondered whether the feeling would be mutual. Somehow the shorter Malfoy did not give the immediate impression of having either his father’s charm or his wit – but really, what could you tell at this distance? He could barely make out the details of the face.
Then Minverva called the name: “Potter, Harry,” and a preposterous murmur and whisper broke out all over the room, even at the Head Table. Severus stifled a groan and focused his eyes on the spot where the Gryffindor head stood with the Hat. Harry Potter came walking slowly, with obvious trepidation, towards the chair, and Severus got a good look at the side of his face before he sat down.
It was the Black Rooster.
The same face – the very same. The undisciplined hair, the glasses, the skin tones, the mouth, everything. It was as if Severus had been transported back to the day of his own Sorting and once again faced the eleven-year-old James Potter, the damned Gallo Nero, that posturing, strutting, arrogant, pampered, spoiled, bullying – Severus took a deep breath and controlled himself. Here was nothing to concern him. Here was only a copy of the Black Rooster, probably just as unbearable, but just a boy, after all. Severus was Potions Master, Head of Slytherin; this boy was not worthy of his contempt. If he had anything of his execrable father in him it was probably only the looks.
The Hat took longer than usual to sort Potter, and in the end it was to Gryffindor he went. Severus was hardly surprised; the famous Potter recklessness was probably inherited too. He snorted to himself, wondering what he would have done if the boy had been sorted into Slytherin; now that would have been a disaster, to have a little James Potter under Severus’s own care. He had always enjoyed giving the Slytherins whatever advantages were within his power, given the prejudice and almost united feeling of the other houses against them; but it would have been hard, very hard, to give any such preference to this one.
He was distracted from further attempts to examine the boy by Quirrell’s bleating, inane comments about how wonderful it was that Harry Potter was finally here and how he had had the “privilege of meeting the lad” at The Leaky Cauldron. Severus barely noticed when the umpteenth Weasley was sorted into Gryffindor with such utter predictability that no bookmaker who knew his business would have taken a single wager on the matter. He saw the Potter boy look up at him midway through the meal, and felt a snarl forming on his face of its own accord.
The rest of the meal progressed without much incident, and Severus dutifully attended the Slytherin common room to see that the first-years were properly ensconced. Draco Malfoy managed to smirk, sneer and simper simultaneously when he met Severus, but Severus withheld judgment.
But the next day was different, and far worse.
As it had been time out of mind, the Gryffindors and Slytherins had double Potions together. Severus swept into the room with his usual suddenness, to see what his students were made of. He was used to being disappointed by the shallow minds, narrow imaginations and thin nerves of his students, and didn’t really expect anything different from this group. When he came in they all jumped predictably, and he settled down to something like comfort with the contempt he planned to pour over them. Let them see whether they had what it took to thrive, or even survive, with a teacher who actually expected things of them.
He began with his customary opening lecture about the superiority of Potions as a discipline and an art, and was about to begin on introductory principles and ingredients, when he had the misfortune to look up. The Potter boy was looking right at him, and he could see the face full-on, and at a much greater proximity than the night before.
Lily’s eyes.
Lily’s eyes, down to the precise shape and every last fleck of color. Lily’s eyes, staring at him out of the Black Rooster’s face.
He could not believe it. He should have known, he should have anticipated –
Catching himself, he covered his shock and rage by baiting Harry about what he knew, or rather, didn’t know, about Potions. The boy sank further and further into his chair, obviously knowing himself outmatched, knowing that here he was the worm. “Fame isn’t everything,” taunted Severus, and the Slytherins tittered appreciatively. Severus was able to recover his self-control and pursue the rest of the class without giving away any discomfort.
When the students left, he sat down at his desk and put his face in his hands.
If the Fates had conspired to create an image to horrify, to enrage, to humiliate him, it was this one. Here was the proof, the undeniable, inexorable, damnable proof, that Lily had been won by the Gallo Nero. That they’d been together. That (Severus felt his gorge rise) – that he’d had her. The images flooded irresistibly into his head, tormenting him: Lily and the Black Rooster, together, entwined. He wanted to retch. Every memory he had of Lily, every sweet thought, every wistful, hopeful, boyish daydream, was stained, as if by excrement, with the image of the two of them together. This image he would not be able to escape, now: Every time he looked at Harry, he’d see Lily’s eyes in James’s face. Every time he taught his double Potions, every time he passed the boy in the corridor, he’d be reminded of how utterly, eternally, irreversibly he’d been defeated by that creature. His failure stared him in the face.
And he’d be looking at it for at least the next five years.
  • Amazing

    Well you accomplished something I never thought possible. You've captivated me with a story about and from the eyes of one sadistic, greasy haired and insufferably arrogant protagonist known as Professor Severus Snape. Amazing!

    While I often wonder the journey of the slippery slope that creates a character such as Snape, he's one of those characters that I really don't care what decisions, actions or trauma created him. Mainly because of his sadistic treatment of Harry, which to me is inexcusable no matter the cause. While I can try to forge in my minds eye stories and causes for a mans struggle and downfall the phrase "You knowest this mans fall but you knowest not his wrassling", comes to mind and my heart can forgive, can understand. But not for Snape, I give him no such quarter.

    I literally chortled out-loud at the lines "What could make a man both terrified and tickled? A highly amusing executioner? A playful poisonous spider?"...Priceless

    I'm quite envious of your writing Ken, again, especially given the character. But I am also quite curious to see your Shakespearean spin to this story. I would assume that Snape's hands are stained with innocent blood "Out, Out, damned spots"

    Thank you for sharing this with me. Enchanted aka Maggie

    • Re: Amazing

      Thanks, Maggie. I'm glad you took a look.

      As I think I mentioned to you by e-mail once upon a time, the thought of how SS wound up where he is intrigues me, since I think that he's someone who could have been one of the good guys, given some better luck and some better choices. (I don't mean he isn't on the right side of the Voldemort thing -- I mean that he isn't a "good guy" in the sense you're talking about. No matter which side he's on, he's cruel and cold and shouldn't be allowed around children.) But how he got there, that's the question.

      I don't know about Lady Macbeth's spots. What makes Macbeth so interesting is that he heads toward damnation step by step, fully aware of what he's doing and horrified by it, but can't stop. Hence the title of the story.
  • Oooooo

    You've done a fantastic job with this. I'm actually really enjoying hearing things from this perspective - I can see how it would be a lot of fun to write.

    I'm curious about what comes in between if this is ~Chapter 15. I had thought the story was going to be (essentially) the canon tale from Snape's perspective, but it seems you're making that only a piece of a more involved Snape-ier story?
    • Re: Oooooo

      Thank you, Cookie.

      The whole story is probably about 22 chapters, the first of which (posted earlier on LJ) is a prologue dealing with the marriage of Snape's parents. I take Snape through his own time at Hogwarts, including especially his disasterous attachment to Lily Evans (who never has any interest in him except as a friend, and not even that after their fifth year), which winds up helping him along the road where martyrdom winds up being his only choice.

  • Now, hold on, I don't WANT to feel sorry for Snape, or sympathetic, even a little bit!

    This is one of the great things about fan fiction, how authors can elaborate on such things/characters, plumb depths that I had never contemplated (and take me along for the ride). Snape's hatred of Harry has always seemed childish, unrealistic, to me; but already, reading your chapter 15 (or so), it makes much more sense. Black Rooster, Gallo nero and Lily (!?!).

    While I guess I'm not going to get my usual required fanfic supplement of romance with this story you're writing, it's still going to be a very interesting ride!
    • Thanks, Brad.

      I'm glad to provide a diversion. I enjoy reading a lot of fluff myself, but somehow it's not what I tend to write. Go figure.

      I'll have you know that I spent weeks wracking my brain to find the "Black Rooster / Gallo Nero" metaphor. I knew that the impact this scene would depend on Snape's having a personal, secret, disparaging name that he used for James. But finding an appropriate name was hard. It couldn't be flip, or hip, or slangy, or silly, or chilish -- there were so many things that wouldn't work, and I was beginning to despair. Eventually I thought, "Heck, just write the scene and put 'xxxxxx' where you want to have the name, and maybe it'll come to you later." And then, as I was writing the beginning the scene, I had Snape think that Quirrell was like a rabbit -- and it clicked: Snape thinks of people as different kinds of animals! So I asked, what kind of animal would be Snape's vision of James? A rooster immediately came to mind because of its ego and aggressiveness and noise and apparent sense of entitlement, and especially the monopoly it tries to have on females. And I thought of James's black hair and remembered the Gallo Nero, the black rooster that is the symbol used in Tuscany for the highest grade of Chianti. And it all came together. What I love about "Black Rooster" is that it is both ominous and disparaging: Snape is contemptuous of James and afraid of him all at the same time.

      • I thought how terrific how you thought of metaphor. How he looks at people and treats them accordingly. Poor Snape..just the sight Harry is the begining of his long torment rushing downward.

        Glad you're going to take the story to his attachment for Lily. I am totally mystified about that. Want to see this played out.

        I hope the entire story is Snape's POV. Only thing...you're going to be sitting in his head.
        • Thanks, Rachel. I'm not sure that I'm going to have a good explanation for how or why Severus fixates on Lily -- it may just be one of those inexplicable things. But the part about pining for her without encouragement, about being rejected (if gently), and about making the fatal mistake that alienates her forever, that part I'm going to do up to the armpits.

          Yeah, I don't know how long I can stand to live in his head -- but it was much easier this time than I thought it would be. ...this may be a bad sign...
  • Very nicely done. I think you do an excellent job of getting into Snape's mind, even if it's not a pleasant place to be. His musing about the different terrifying but entertaining things seems a bit out of character; for some reason I just don't think Snape entertains himself mentally like that. Disdain, it seems to me, if his preferred form of making himself feel better.

    Your interaction with Snape and Harry in the Potions class is a perfect mirror for the Pensieve scene I've just written about Snape confronting Dumbledore immediately after the class and protesting that he can't spend seven years staring at Lily's eyes in James' face. Glad to know we're of one mind about his reaction.
    • Thanks, Valerie.

      As you well know, we're of "one mind" because you gave me the idea to begin with, you minx! :) How could I not do well, with such great source material? The only thing that's got me worried is whether I have to copy your whole scene and put it into my story!

      I think you may be right about the musings. It was where the thoughts naturally seemed to meander when Severus was wondering about Quirrell. I needed to have Severus (1) recognize that there was something he didn't understand about Quirrell, but (2) fail to see that it had anything to do with Voldemort. So I thought if he was distracted by the "terror-tickle" problem that would put him off the scent. You are The Beta, so you get to help me think of an alternative. :)


  • You, know, I'm wondering why you just don't start the story here. I mean you have the back story in your mind - you've presented some tantalizing bits of here. Then you have the time frame of Harry's first year for Snape to remember all of his burning memories in flashback. You could easily parallel all of their encounters with the ones Snape had with is parents - esp. the idea of Snape trying to protect Harry to repay an old debt.

    Ooops. I'm probably not supposed to be messing with you order - but I wondering if your instinct to write this first is telling you something.

    Wonderful stuff by the way. I really think you captured Snapse inner thoughts very, very well. It sounds like Snape all around. I especially liked the snarky comments about the Weasleys and the Sorting Hat. He does have a biting sense of humor and it's good to see it here. (You don't have to call me sir) LOL. I think Lily had some of that sarcasm as well.

    I love the black rooster since that works for James on so many levels - his cockiness - his appearance - and of course, roosters are the deadly enemy of the Basilisk. And Harry as the "little rooster" does indeed kill the giant snake.

    A wonderful middle (or beginning!) or whatever this is. I think you have your characterization down pat.

    • Hi, Mary. Thank you; I treasure your opinion.

      Start the story here? Aieeeeee! Now I'm not going to be able to get that idea out of my head. Witch, what have you done to me?

      I think I have an aversion to flashbacks, although I can't give you a good reason why. I mean, you've already seen me resort to long speeches by characters telling others what happened in the far past, rather than resort to flashbacks. (Maybe I can blame it on having been forced to read The Spirit of St. Louis, a book that is nearly half flashbacks, when I was in the 7th grade.) I can see a parallel construction working, but I'd probably run it as two separate stories in tandem, alternating chapters or maybe dividing up each chapter into a "past" and "future" half. (Or -- this is even crazier -- run the whole story in reverse order, like Pinter's Betrayal, starting with Snape's death scene and ending with "Things That Do Sound So Fair", so that the last line of the whole story would be, "I was hoping you'd be my Maid of Honor.")

      But I'm trying to create a sense of an unavoidable tragedy happening, a la Macbeth, where the protagonist, step by step, traps himself by his own bad choices -- and at the same time I want to show that Severus was forced into those choices by what happened to him earlier. I want the reader to wonder at the end, "How much is choice and how much is fate? How much is controlled by us and how much is forced on us?" ...Which is the key question, the only question really, in Macbeth. I think -- I think that I need a chronological sequence to make this happen.

      Also, Snape's realization that Harry's face is "the Black Rooster" will have the impact I want only if the reader has already seen Severus give James that nickname and use it as a way of nursing his resentment.

      Speaking of basilisks and roosters, have you read The Book of the Dun Cow? That's the first place I ever saw the word "basilisk," and its hero is a rooster.
  • Yup, do it

    If it were earlier and I were more awake, I could probably come up with a few paragraphs of meaningful commentary which would match the tone and intellect of the other visitors here. I could probably also have made more sense in my previous sentence. Alas, in the immortal words of Gary Larsen, "It [is] late, and I [am] tired."

    All that aside, here is the grand summation of what I could say: write it. You've shown that it can be meaningful, entertaining, and original. On a more poetic day I might wax poetic (what a coincidence) about those three properties being the holy trinity of fanfic. So, write it.
    • Re: Yup, do it

      Thanks for the encouragement, Dave. I'm pretty zonked myself at this hour.

      I'm going to have to be a bit more disciplined about this one than is my wont. Usually I write the parts that appeal to me at the moment, then keep writing until I have something finished. But if I try it that way with a story that's 22 chapters or more, it'll never get posted because I won't wind up finishing Chapter Two (remember PS rules) for months. Interesting.
  • Well. I don't normally read Snape fics (not enough fluff, and when there is fluff it's so horribly wrong) but I'm prepared to make an exception for you when you write the rest of this.

    You capture his voice brilliantly. The snarl that forms of its own accord, the jealousy of the inanely bleating Quirrell, the failed attempts at disinterest in the Sorting. And Gallo Nero - lovely name for James - with Lily's eyes. No wonder he can't bear Harry.

    Oh and, for what it's worth, I agree with Mary. I think this would be a great first chapter. I know you don't like flashbacks, but if you don't think of them as flashbacks, just sort of musings on the past that led to the present, maybe you could get over your reluctance.
    • Thanks, Ros. I'm conflicted about that. For me, the main energy of the story comes from things that happen before this chapter -- the slow series of events and bad decisions that turn Snape away from the light. By the time this chapter comes along most of the damage has been done -- what we're seeing are the results of the damage. The only thing I could imagine using this chapter as the first one would be alternating past-and-present chapters -- but I'm not sure how that would work.
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