Disclaimer: never did and never will own it. J.K. Rowling does.
Spoilers: Order of the Phoenix
~ Hidden Guardian ~
First-year Slytherins and Gryffindors sat alert in class, their eyes riveted to their teacher, who leaned slightly against the desk, a well-practiced scowl on the lips, seemingly waiting for something. They had been waiting for maybe two full minutes but nobody dared to whisper a word. The reputation of the Potions teacher was not of someone to meddle with.
Then a whiff of cold air entered the dungeons and some students would swear later that they heard soft footsteps and the whisper of billowing robes. The Potions teacher had a thin smile.
“Good morning, class. I am Professor Snape, as I’m sure you already know. The Slytherin students will see me more often as their Head of House. This class is common between Slytherins and Gryffindors and it shall be so until your fifth year. I don’t want to hear any complains about it. It was already so when I was at Hogwarts and I survived it. You will survive it also and you will hopefully come out of it a little bit more clever.”
Uneasy shifting in the seats, reaction that prompted a knowing smirk.
“You probably all heard about the now famous first-year speech, from your parents or an older sibling. You will not hear it today, nor any day soon. In fact, this speech hasn’t been given in this classroom in the last six years. Instead, I will remind you of something that happened six years ago, when evil roamed almost free. Where Transfiguration and Charms failed, Potions and Herbology succeeded.”
“With the cost of a human life,” muttered a Gryffindor resentfully.
“Indeed with the cost of a human life. Far from me to deny the usefulness of Transfiguration and Charms, but none had the potency of Potions. Therefore, there will be no silly wand-waving in this classroom.”
A last glare and the board covered itself with instructions for the coming lesson.
“What was she waiting for?” whispered a Gryffindor to the student next to him.
“The ghost of the former Potions teacher.”
“But we didn’t see anything!”
“He doesn’t like to be seen. But he should rather be haunting the DADA classroom!” he added a bit too loudly.
“What an interesting idea,” purred Hermione Snape as the air became suddenly very cold.
A wave of her hand and the student had the impression that he was alone facing the Potions mistress. He swallowed heavily.
“Now, Salazar, may I know what is this display about? What prompted you to hurt your father in such a way?”
“What does he care? He’s a ghost!”
Hermione’s eyes turned hard as agate.
“Do I need to remind you the reason why he became a ghost?”
“No, mum,” he murmured sheepishly.
“Good. Salazar, you don’t need to slander your father’s memory to be accepted by the Gryffindors. Your father died a hero and you don’t have to be ashamed of what he was before. I certainly wasn’t and I was a Gryffindor. That didn’t prevent me of becoming Head of Slytherin.”
The conversation was over and, after a hand wave, Hermione turned to her class.
“It seems to me that you are far more interested in the potion used six years ago than by the lesson of today. I shall indulge you, but only this once, because you need to learn what I’ve planned for you and not what you want to learn. Only with knowledge can you defeat evil such as Lord Voldemort.”
“But Voldemort is dead!” exclaimed a Gryffindor.
“Indeed,” replied Hermione coldly. “Because if he weren’t, you wouldn’t dare say his name so boldly. Anyway, you all know of Severus Snape, former Potions master at Hogwarts and owner of the Order of Merlin, First Class, postumately unfortunately. At the cost of great risks and his own health, he was a spy against Voldemort and managed to steal some of his blood. Now, he could have used Dark Arts to dispose of the Dark Lord, but he himself would have sunk even lower. Yes, he wanted to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. I repeat, he wanted to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, because he had been so much exposed to them that he felt that he was the best to prepare you against them. So he chose his field of predilection: Potions. The cost of it was high… higher than it should have been. Yet Severus Snape didn’t hesitate: he linked his fate with the Dark Lord’s and drank the potion with the blood, thus destroying Voldemort’s soul at the cost of his own life.”
The students were silent, looking at their teacher who had an iron grip on her feelings, not letting any of them show.
“Class dismissed,” she said, her raw voice being the only thing that betrayed her.
Hermione leaned heavily against the wall, her breath shallow. A cold embrace settled around her shoulders and she smiled lightly. She didn’t know what warmth was for now six years and only kept of it a fond memory, like a cloak that enveloped her gently, as a mother would do. Instead she had the coldness of Severus’s arms and she wouldn’t have exchanged it for all the gold in Gringotts.
She returned it to her private chambers, sitting in front of the fire, even though she couldn’t feel the heat caressing her face. The fire was lit only to allow Floo. She thought of Salazar, Severus’s son, her son. He knew the story about the potion that killed both his father and the Dark Lord. After all, he had asked her enough times where his father was and when he would come back home. She never had the heart to deny him the truth, event though hearing his sobs afterwards made her wish she had lied.
What would he think if h knew the true potency of the potion and its limits? What would he say if he knew that it lasted only ten years? That when drinking it, you had to fully understand that slowly you would fade away, first disappearing from sight, then being totally silent and finally even the persistent cold would go away, along with you, ringing the time for a new victim to step forward?
Severus had known it and had cursed himself for not being able to remedy to that aspect of the potion. But they had had to react, because Voldemort was winning. And so he had drunk the potion, leaving behind him a grieving wife who understood and accepted his decision and a young son who neither understood nor accepted it.
Hermione threw a pinch of Floo powder in the fire.
The grouchy face of Viktor Krum appeared in the flames.
“No,” he replied, his voice rasping. “The potion does not accept Dark Arts. Severus closed the way for Death Eaters to call back the Dark Lord.”
“Nothing then… We are going to fail.”
“This is not a failure, Hermione, even though it costs us lives. It is still better than having the Dark Side reigning over the Wizarding world.”
“Yes, it is, but still we are at the beginning of a long line of people who will sacrifice everything for a world that doesn’t even care,” she said bitterly. “And maybe in two hundreds years, they will forget this barbaric tradition of drinking the blood potion and Voldemort shall rise again.”
“It is impossible, Hermione. Those of the chain will know the story and have to be Potions masters. None of them will step back, I promise. And in fourteen years, I shall step forward.”
“But till then, you will keep an eye on Salazar.”
“Are you sure you do not want to reconsider your decision, Hermione?”
“Quite sure. In four years, he will be a man and he will understand. But he will need you to accept it. Having Severus as a ghost is more than I can bear. I almost can’ hear him anymore and soon I’ll have only the cold to tell me he’s here. And he’s tiring too; the earth is calling him. He wants to rest and I want to be with him.”
“I will be there in four years,” he said quite forcefully.
He closed the Floo call and Hermione stood up.
“Yes, you will be there to gather my blood…”
She walked to her desk, opening a hidden drawer. There, wrapped in a heavy velvet cloth, was a tiny phial containing a red liquid. She cradled it in her palms, like a little flame, the only that could drive away the cold for a brief moment, like a caress Severus used to brush on her cheek years ago: Severus’s blood, the few drops she need to prepare the new batch of the blood potion. Nobody else but she would drink it.
“Yes, in four years, I shall become what you are, the hidden guardian of the Wizarding world, and in fourteen years, we will be together again, my love.”
Only a very soft sigh of regret answered and yet, she wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined it.