A Brilliant Mind
by Moonslash

Severus Snape is one of the greatest Potions Masters in the world. His mastery of the craft feels natural: like wearing skin, like breathing in deep thought, like being lulled to sleep by the echoes of silence through the dungeons. He knows everything there is to know about potions. He knows them as he knows the smooth darkness of the insides of his eyelids, as the feel of his palms rubbing against each other by the fireplace, as the breathe-like swoosh of his robes when he turns a sharp corner in the hallways of Hogwarts.

He knows all known potions, and he knows them the way they're meant to be known: by heart.

He can recite ingredients on cue no matter how obscure the mix, or identify a potion on the basis of effects or appearance; he can do this no matter the circumstances. Awakened in the middle of the night by a bucket of ice water, chained upside down with a red-hot spike in his side, sheathed into the elastic warmth of a Veela's mouth -- he can do it, no matter what.

If it wasn't for the importance of his particular skill, he'd probably liken it to a party trick. But his knowledge is too grave and too meaningful -- it is, indeed, that which enables meaning -- to ever mock or slight. It defines him. And no shock, no torture, no blowjob in this world could ever cloud the clarity of this definition, and the significance of his knowledge.

Just to make sure, he underwent a particularly nasty procedure years ago so that he -- it -- could never be Obliviated.

He never forgets what he must not forget, for the world as he knows it may very well rely on his memory.


Severus Snape does his job with seriousness that many mistake for a perpetual grudge. In actuality, his face has been shaped by the tension of it. This is because he cannot allow himself to mess up. He is one of very few wizards who'd ever glimpsed the edge of the precipice; and he had known better than to look over it, into the abyss.

His job is to make sure that nobody else gets that close. Ever.

The school is the optimal environment for his work, and teaching is the optimal position for him. Yes, Dumbledore may play his part of the Head Master with dreamy, grandfatherly warmth, but he is well aware of the need to have Snape on his staff; Dumbledore knows what Snape knows, and vice versa.

And of course, they never talk about it.

Knowledge is Snape's purpose and his weapon. He wields it with grace and precision, and he finds satisfaction in performing his role: making sure that his students approach it with the reverence such gift, such privilege, deserves.

Of course, the others are cast to play different stereotypes, but all are in it for the same cause, whether they're aware of it or not. Dumbledore gets to be serene and wise; and McGonagall gets to be strict and demanding; and Trelawney gets to be ridiculous and, well, ridiculous. And the students get to feel special, and challenged, and superior, and -- in Snape's case -- unworthy or furious, or even both. And all the time, they are learning.

Snape's likes to play his part. He likes to tip the balance of power in the classroom; he likes to channel their rampant energy into frustration; he likes to set the bar higher and higher, demand more and more, until they begin to feel that their brains are too small to ever contain the knowledge he throws at them. Let alone question it.

And that's the most important part.

Of course, Snape knows better than to question magic. The origin of it, the functioning of it, the way it works. Because he had glimpsed the edge, and he had sensed the abyss beyond it, and he knows that he doesn't need to know that which would certainly destroy him.

He would never ask questions about magic, and his job, his real job, is to make sure that nobody else even dreams of asking them.

When he is fully aware of this purpose, he truly enjoys teaching.

Dumbledore has done a good job on his part. He's formed a staff of naturals: McGonagall could never even dream of the abyss, yet her performance in class is at once inspirational and structured enough to rein in any wandering thought her students may have. She turns into a cat, and while every student wants to know how she did it, nobody really wonders how she did it. They just want to be able to do it themselves, and that makes all the difference.

Trelawney, on the other hand, makes it too easy to dismiss Divination -- and while the students are cracking jokes, or letting their fanciful imaginations provide the talent they lack as they follow her lead, they are all too distracted to question the way her magic doesn't work. Of course, Trelawney, who is as clueless about the abyss as the rest of them, can still put on a spectacular show of a different kind when needed, as that Potter brat had found out.

Snape doesn't hate Potter. He merely despises him. And not because of any history with the boy's father and his posse. No, it's nothing that petty.

Snape doesn't dwell on this too often, but he is aware that he despises the boy because he feels superior to him. If that little brat were to glimpse the edge the way Snape had, he would not be able to go back; and he certainly would not be able to fight something more horrific than anything Voldemort could even dream up. It takes more, much more than brashness masking as courage and a sensationalist pedigree to be the true defender of the wizarding world.

No; if such title is to be bestowed on anyone, Severus Snape should be known as The One Who Lived.

Yet nobody knows this, because the very awareness of his heroics would destroy them all. So Snape gets to be a hero only in his own mind.

It's much, much harder than being a spy amongst Death Eaters.


On some nights, after particularly unpleasant sessions with the Dark Lord, Snape drinks and thinks. He thinks about the greatest law of the wizarding world, the unwritten one. Thou shall not question magic. When he's particularly depressed, he wonders if life would be any better if he were to break that law.

Of course, Snape doesn't want to know how magic works. He doesn't know what is it in his potions that turns them deadly or empowering; he doesn't know why ingredients have certain properties, and why they mix the way they do to produce sometimes surprising results. But he knows, no matter how depressed he may get, he knows that he mustn't wonder.

Those who tried to figure out magic ended up without, and they saw the edge swing all the way around until the top became the bottom and then turned bottomless and then the abyss swallowed them whole. When Snape drinks and thinks, and flirts with it, he can see the edge of the world tilt sometimes, like a crooked half-smile on the face of a private apocalypse. And then he starts to recite potions until his head clears of thought and reality reverts to it stable self and sanity prevails.

There is a wing of St. Mungo's that houses patients whose ramblings, if ever heard by a living wizard, could turn the listener mad. The nurses wear charmed earmuffs and the management never talks about this wing other than in terms of maintenance. And nobody dares to visit.

For some odd reason, most of these patients are women. In Snape's imagination, their hair is long and their skin is translucent from years of confinement, and their eyes glitter like cursed diamonds.

Of course, every once in a while some (invariably Muggleborn) romantic idiot, drunk on the metaphor of mermaids, will try to break in and find out what it is the patients are talking about in the wall- padded comfort of their solitaries. If successful, the idiot will get to live out the metaphor fully, because he'll never be able to tear himself away. He'll join the mad ones forever in their sea of stories, eternally drowning on his own salty drop of discovered damnation.

Of course, that's not the only way wizards go over the edge. Some are naturally inclined to question their gift. And Snape's job is to keep his eye on those whose curiosity may end up drowning them.

Yes, they tend to be Muggleborns; but it's not a rule. Occasionally, a pureblood Ravenclaw or, more rarely, a Slytherin will ask The Question (hopefully not in front of the whole class because it takes a bit of effort to Obliviate a room full of people whose comprehension had just been profoundly affected).

And if The Question is asked in private, inside one's own head, then it may go undetected until it's too late.

Snape can imagine how this works. The Question will tease a single thread out of the tight impermeability of life's knitting, and it will enchant the questioner with promises of revelations about the Fundamental Truths About Magic. And then the thread will be pulled and pulled, and pulled some more, until the thread becomes a pull and the pull becomes unstoppable and the fabric of existence unravels and all the questions and all the answers lose meaning and there is no going back, no, never going back. Because such madness is beyond the power of Memory Charms.

Such madness is beyond the power of magic.

Snape doesn't pity the fools who let this happen to them. But he must protect his kind, and so he approaches his job very seriously. He makes sure that his students are too preoccupied with trying to prove (or simply not to humiliate) themselves in his classroom, to think about anything beyond his assignments and his keenly aimed menace.

His job is not very difficult, despite the mixing that could have resulted in an instant end of the wizarding world if only the children were a bit more insightful. But somehow, the mixing had incorporated itself neatly into the social caste system, and now it, too, plays the role of distraction. The purebloods are too innately scornful and confident, and the Muggleborns are too innately insecure and ardent, for either group to question the nature of the gift that equates them.

It's rather like Quiddich: the players never stop to wonder what it is they are doing, as long as they've got a chance to do it better than their opponents.

Admittedly, Snape is still rather concerned about the Muggleborns: they arrived to Hogwarts from a world build on the ruthlessly systematic foundations of Apollonian logic, and although eleven years of age is still young enough to accept magic with wide-eyed fascination, Snape was always wary of the scientific thought they were exposed to in their world. Patterns of thought development, of knowledge acquisition, of its pursuit, were difficult to bend.

But it turned out that becoming a part of the wizarding community was also an alienating experience for the Muggleborns: in time, most of them would move away from their Muggle identities and choose to relish their wizarding lives all the more for knowing they were extraordinary. That was the extent of their perspective: gratitude mixed with sweet nostalgia, resulting in successful assimilation.

Dumbledore was always really good at pushing the right buttons to bring about that particular kind of adjustment. Yes, the Head Master knows that intellect rarely wanders into the deep waters rippling with emotion; so he makes sure to link them in the students' minds. In his comfortingly wise way, discreetly and unassumingly, he makes sure that the students stay away from the whirlpools that may lead to difficult questions.

With most students, this approach works. But not with all.


Severus Snape is beginning to worry about the Granger girl. She had a promising start, soaking up information in a manic pursuit of knowledge whose mastery was its own purpose and its own reward; so much like his own. But he could also sense her potential to stray, and not just because she was the brightest student he's ever encountered. Unlike himself, her other professors rewarded her mastery too much, and the girl overcame her need to be rewarded. He knew that someday she would begin to think about the mastery itself, if given a chance.

Dumbledore managed to postpone this by encouraging Granger's friendship with the Potter boy; the excitement and peril of being a part of his trio had kept the girl occupied for years. But now she is an adolescent, and instead of becoming preoccupied with hormones like the rest of her classmates, she is... well, not. Instead, she is thoughtful, and --

Sharper. As in, shrewder.

Stronger. As in, not so easily intimidated.

And curiouser.



Severus Snape is a Potions Master, but he has other fields of expertise. For example, he also knows plenty about Dionysus -- the godfather of all things considered magical in the Apollonian world, according to a certain Muggle philosopher. Dumbledore may be the master of homespun comfort, but Snape is the master of a different kind of emotional strategizing; and his kind better work because they're running out of time.

The seduction starts with unsettling looks and incidental personal revelations, usually presented as momentary weaknesses and followed by awkward silences. At the first hint of emotional complexity or, even better, a tormented soul, adolescent girls get curious. Granger is no exception. She appears strangely moved, and it's a happy coincidence that she'd recently broken off with Weasley on account of discrepancies in maturity (she said) and intellect (she thought).

She needs an equal to her mental prowess, and Snape's mouth curves at the irony.

Once the seed is planted, he starts the hot-and-cold dance of attraction and evasion. The girl is like any other girl, and she is head over heels in enchantment over their strange and indefinable relationship long before she realizes that she's also in love.

This hits her hard. She needs to think. But he already knows what she'll decide.

The wrongness of their yet undeclared liaison, the difficulty of it, will be a challenge to the Gryffindor. And so she decides to be his heroine. In fact, she wants him all the more for the star-crossed- ness of it, and yes, she resolves to fight for him if she needs to.

By this time, sensuality is a wild, wild horse bucking on the verge of her subconscious, and the dry, shiny passion in her eyes threatens to unravel him. But she has to be the one to initiate the first touch.

It's been a while. Snape is looking forward to it. But he knows that with young girls, less is more; and so he takes his time and makes her hungry by giving her no more than crumbs -- mere glimpses of desire contained within, the kind of desire still unknown to a young girl.

Granger, like all naturally curious people, is fascinated by glimpses. For her, the universal unknown is a fertile field to be walked in the lifetime of careful, studious discovery; but the immediate, barely unknown is an unbearable hunger to be quelled with blazing, urgent need. She is hypnotized, drawn in, and he thinks it is almost too easy. The girl at the doorstep of seventeen is all youthful suppleness, and Snape savors the taste of her -- so ingenuous and fervent and yet so tender that the way she opens to him is almost sorrowful, like the opening of a rose in early autumn. She is a rustle of modesty and heat, touched and touching blindly through the folds of too much clothing, and her desire and her shame are a twirl of flavors on his tongue that he finds just too bloody charming.

She is now properly preoccupied, and he allows himself to feel smug.


Severus Snape also knows that Granger's drive is inseparable from her intelligence and that her too-keen mind will not rest; so he keeps drawing out the mystery in their romance, and he keeps her guessing and he keeps her uncertain and beleaguered. And he also keeps her coming back for more.

He is buying time.

He must not let her ask The Question. He knows that she is unstoppable, and that she would drive herself straight over the edge.

And now, he knows her well enough to realize that she would not stop there.

Hermione Granger would wonder about her gift until she'd begin to analyze it, and then, not finding logical answers to how things work the Apollonian way, she'd lose her faith in magic -- and thus her ability to use it.

Using her very own mind, sharp and hard as a diamond, she would crush herself into sparkles -- as useless as the crude glitter sold in cheap plastic bags in the Muggles' party stores.

She would be broken, and conscious beyond anguish of the damage inflicted by her very brilliance.

However, she would still be aware that her knowledge must not be shared because others would be hurt as well, and not just by losing their own magical abilities (she'd weep at the thought of telling Harry his parents died just because they were convinced that a few Latin words could kill them).

But she would still be a Gryffindor heroine, and she would try to use her discovery for the greater good. She'd write a letter stating that she'd found out something extraordinary, and although she cannot go into detail, all that the members of the Order of the Phoenix need to know is this: Voldemort's magic is somehow flawed, and all they need to do to counter it is trust her implicitly when she says that it doesn't work.

The P.S. will contain a promise that she'd get in touch later and explain her sudden departure and everything else, and that's a promise she would work very hard not to keep.

Granger would seal the letter and leave it on somebody's desk (maybe Harry's, maybe his) and then she would disappear into the obscure new identity she'd create for herself in the Muggle world.

Of course, Snape knows that such a revelation made public and used in the fight against Voldemort, even though it may win the battle, would likely make them all lose the war that so few even know is being fought. Sooner or later, someone would start to ask questions about faith in any kind of magic, and before you know it, the wizarding world would end.

He can't allow that. He can't let Granger get close to the edge, let alone go over it. But lately, he suspects the fate of the world is not what really worries him.

He is worried because sometimes, he feels tempted to let her -- and to follow her over the edge.


On the nights when Snape drinks, and thinks, the idea of losing all things magical sounds extreme. No magic means no curses, no potions, no wands, no magical creatures.

No magic means no Hogwarts. No wizarding community. No legend of The Boy Who Lived.

(Potter's mother was a Muggleborn; it must have been her deeply imbedded, perhaps subconscious doubt in the very possibility of a killing curse affecting a baby too young to comprehend the meaning of curses, that had somehow warped the laws of magic and saved the boy. It makes perfect sense, actually, in the Apollonian world.)

No magic also means no Voldemort. No Dark Mark, no Death Eaters, no horrid past.

And also, no meaning for whatever is left of him when all these things are removed, erased, wiped off the slate of history.

Turning into a Muggle is not that scares him the most. If his past life were proclaimed impossible, there would be no reason for the nightmares that plague him whenever he goes to bed sans Sleepless Draught; there would be no justification for his guilt over the atrocities he'd committed; and if his fight were taken away along with his abilities, there would be no way for redemption -- and no purpose to his existence.

He would have no past and no future.

He would have nothing.

He would have...

The abyss.

At this point, the edge grins nonchalantly and rocks, boat-like, in his line of vision; and Snape quickly begins to list all the potions that use mandrake root in their basis but don't turn orange at any point of their brewing. And the edge grows still, and eventually disappears from sight -- like the line of horizon that divides the identical blues of the sea and the sky on a perfectly sunny day.

When Snape is calm and almost sober, he decides that he must keep the Granger girl enchanted at any cost.

Right now, that is easy: she's still young enough to feel uncertain about questioning her magical abilities, and she's old enough to feel the pull of Dionysus on her flesh with very little encouragement from him. There is no room for scientific exploration in her mind, because her body and her heart are busy with discoveries of their own.

He is worried about what may happen years from now. But he will do whatever it takes to get the job done.


Severus Snape is a Potions Master, and a master of Dionysian living, and a master of leading an ex-Death Eater's life of atonement.

But his greatest mastery is the mastery of the Intangible.

He is the master of his knowledge, and he is the master of his faith. He is capable of keeping the edge at a safe distance, both from himself and from Granger's thoughts. His job is to save the world of magic, and he does his job with seriousness and devotion that can fascinate and mystify any intelligent woman for a lifetime.

If Granger remains a spirited Apollonian at heart even after he's conquered it, he will marry her and devote his life to protecting the world from her brilliant mind.


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