Title: Marking Duty
Characters: Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore
Word Count: 1037
Summary: Severus marks his duty.
Warning (Highlight to view): For HBP spoilers.
Disclaimer: This piece is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling; various publishers, including, but not limited to: Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Letitia Elderberry, Severus thought, reading over the Seventh Year Ravenclaw's thesis on the application of dragon's blood in minor explosive potions, will have a long and distinguished career—when she learns to logically order her research.
"Sound thesis illustrated poorly," he said, writing his response on her parchment. "Presenting your theory before detailing your experimental process was sloppy thinking indeed. Resubmit in one week," he concluded with a flourish of red ink, which was absorbed like a bloody tear into the page.
A cough interrupted him. "Why Severus, that was almost complimentary," Albus remarked, inviting himself into the Potions master's office and taking a chair. "You must like the student."
"I neither like nor dislike her, Albus. My assessment was fair," Severus replied, without betraying any surprise at the Headmaster's arrival. "What is it?"
"I see I've found you in good humor."
Severus glanced up from his stack of parchment impatiently, his quill hovering above another essay.
Albus sighed. "Mundungus has agreed to deal with our little problem."
"It's not a 'little problem'!" Severus snapped, tossing his quill aside and standing abruptly. "And your confidence in that . . . cauldron salesman is ridiculous."
"Ah, but it is not Mundungus in whom I must have faith. He will steal readily enough. That he's agreed to procure the item is a lucky thing for us all, but it is Aberforth who will have all the risk of hiding it."
"And how," Severus said slowly, "is he planning to do that?"
"I did not ask him."
"Sit down, dear boy," Albus said calmly, though there was a hint of steel in his tone. "We haven't time for your histrionics."
His mouth opening and then closing in anger, Severus fell heavily back into his chair and glowered at the old wizard.
"Better. Now then, I did ask you if you had any ideas as to whom we might better entrust the Horcrux, and you said—"
"Nothing to which you paid any heed. This is madness, Albus—we should destroy the damn thing, not hide it!"
"You mean that you should destroy it, and that, I cannot allow. You know very well why I cannot," Albus said, gingerly cradling his mangled hand in his whole one.
"I am not the 'Chosen One'," Severus retorted petulantly. "If I fail, it won't matter."
"You know that isn't true. I need you, Severus. I need you to protect the boy—to protect both boys."
"You need me to ki—" Severus began to say, but could not complete his thought.
"Yes, I do."
"I don't know if I can," Severus whispered, hanging his head.
"Old friend, you have always made me proud."
"But for one mistake, one grave mistake, you have acted with honor and done your duty. You have never failed me. Do. Not. Fail. Me. Now."
Severus looked up in astonishment. He rarely heard the Headmaster speak with such cold vehemence. It almost unnerved him.
"I know you, Severus Snape. I know that to fail is antithetical to your very being. You will safeguard the Order, the boys, and your own life. You will complete your mission. And you will do these things because you cannot do otherwise. . . . Is that not so?"
"What other choice have you left me?"
"None, I'm afraid. Our path is clear. Yours will expose you to enough danger as it is, and for that, I am truly sorry. I had hoped things might end differently, but—"
"Save your maudlin sentiments for someone who might believe them," Severus hissed. "And if you've finished reassuring yourself that I'm . . . your man, do leave me to mark in peace. I'm still a professor."
"Yes. A Defense professor," Albus replied, glancing down at Elderberry's thesis, "though I see you've found a way to incorporate Potions in your new curriculum."
"Brewing offensive potions is something any competent Auror should be able to do," Severus replied defensively.
"I am well aware of that."
"Then why mention it?"
"I meant it as a compliment, of course," Albus said, standing slowly and wincing as he did so.
Severus could almost feel the pain as his own. "Do you require something?" he asked, grateful that the worry he was feeling did not color his tone.
"Nothing helps, I'm sorry to say. Do not trouble yourself on my account. I will be free of my pain soon enough."
"Yes, Professor Snape?" the man asked pointedly.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry."
"You needn't be. The choice was mine," he said, steadying himself. "Now then, I'll leave you to your marking. I have some teaching to do, myself."
"And what choice will you give him?"
Albus stopped under the lintel of the door, but he did not turn around. "The same choice I gave you," he said hoarsely, before moving slowly away.
None, Severus thought bitterly. You'll give him no choice but obedience, and he will obey, won't he?
I daresay he will, came Albus' mental reply.
"Damnation!" Severus yelled, closing his mind and leaning back into his chair to squeeze tight his eyes.
He would not cry. He never cried.
Professors don't, he thought savagely, seizing up his quill and dipping it into the ink well. Who would respect us if we did?
The brat's mocking words rose in his mind: "There's no reason to call me 'sir', Professor," and, enraged, Severus snapped the quill between his fingers in half.
"It won't work, Albus! He'll never listen to me!"
But there was no response from the Headmaster.
"He'll . . . never . . . listen . . . to me," Severus repeated brokenly, hiding his face in his hands as he leaned into the pile of parchment on his desk.
It was not enough to cover the evidence of his failure.
He found it galling, after indulging his weakness, to have to dry the tears he had shed from his students' essays—from Potter's, in particular—but he did not permit himself to dwell on the emotion. Instead, feeling like a fraud but resolved, he retrieved a new quill and began marking once more; for though his teaching career had been over-long and undistinguished, it was still his, and he knew his duty.
He knew, as well, that soon, duty would be all that was left to him.
"May it be enough."