Chapter 9: Mouse Trap
When Harry entered the next day, he was carrying a box, and Severus was instantly set on edge by the manifold possibilities contained within.
“Please spare me the unnecessary anxiety and tell me that does not contain more muggle take-out delicacies involving sauce, cheese and flat bread, inundated with crystallized tropical fruit?”
“Oh, come on, Snape,” Harry sighed. “The whole world has a love affair with pizza!”
“A secondary proof that it is not substantially nutritious enough to be considered a bone fide meal.”
“Well, anyway, you can cool it, because this isn’t a pizza box.”
“What is it, then?”
Harry held it aloft, revealing the colorful label which read “Mouse Trap.”
“Considering the fact that I spend more hours in here per day than you do, I think it only fair to try and dispel your fantasies about mass rodent invasion hereabouts.”
“It’s a board game,” Harry clarified. “I found it when cleaning out some of the rubble from the Gryffindor recreation room. It was a game night favorite.”
“I admittedly never felt the need to indulge.”
“Well, it’s one of those things everyone should do at least once before…”
“I certainly can’t see how they’d manage it after the fact.” Harry crouched down and started to take the pieces out of the box. “What color mouse do you want, Snape?”
“No,” he shot him down simply.
“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!”
“Since when have I been known to sacrifice my dignity by jumping on the unsteady bandwagon of ‘fun’?”
“Then you need it even more than I do!”
“What I need now is breakfast,” he grumbled.
“Well, I got a couple of nice, sweet cinnamon buns for you,” Harry stated, pulling a paper bag out from under his coat and dangling it in front of him. Snape reached for it, but Harry snatched it away. “For after we finish the game, that is.”
“You’re all heart,” he growled.
“I know,” he agreed.
“Look, as far as I’m aware, you’re supposed to be interrogating me or what have you,” Snape reminded him. “This…this is just cruel and unusual punishment!”
“I just did interrogate you, like, yesterday,” Harry retorted. “And…it was kind of depressing. I just need a little break.”
“Yeah, I just…need to air out my head. So we have a pink mouse, a blue mouse, an orange mouse, and grinning green hippo…”
“I maintain my conscientious objection.”
“Look, I’d love to provide a mouse in the Slytherin colors for you, but they just don’t come in your average box set.”
“If you’re so damned set upon this infantile gaming fest, why not recruit the Weasley barnacle and Little Miss Show-Off instead of inflicting your retrogressive state on me?”
Harry didn’t respond for a moment, seeming to become unduly invested in setting up the marble works aspect of the game. When he finally did, he mumbled, “They’re not…feeling too well.”
“And I’m feeling well?”
“No…it’s just different.”
“What, did they finally hex each other with the swine flu or something?”
Harry squinted. “Didn’t I tell you? I guess…I forgot. Fred Weasley’s dead. So are Hermione’s parents. It was…you know.”
Snape nodded solemnly. “I…regret they have had to suffer personal loss. Especially the boy.”
“You’ve always hated the Weasleys,” Harry scoffed. “I can’t imagine you feeling too bad about it.”
“I have not…hated my students,” he retorted in his own defense. “I have not liked them, but I have hated very few people, believe it or not. True hatred is too potent a thing to bandy about haphazardly, so I have extended it sparingly. The noteworthy exceptions have been the dark lord, your father…and mine.”
“You mean I never made it to the list?”
“I feel positively left out.”
“Don’t take it too hard; it was the slimmest of margins.”
Harry chuckled as he lifted the lever and sent a marble down the newly constructed slot.
There was something about Harry’s sudden interest in the silly plaything that made Snape feel rather…sorry for him, in spite of himself. The young man hadn’t had much of a childhood after all, and at age 17, had gone through more than most people go through in their whole lifetimes. As a matter of fact, Snape had much the same story in his teen years. But he didn’t recall seeking release via muggle board games…
“Did it ever occur to you that I may not be quite the type to engage in pastimes involving multi-colored cheese-snatchers doomed to be snapped up by a plastic trap depending on the roll of the dice and the speed of marbles?”
“Well, there is a bit of a method to it, actually,” Harry insisted, digging the instructions out of the box. “Besides…you already have such a low opinion of my abilities in general, it doesn’t matter. Out there, though, everybody thinks I’m a hero, so I can’t be caught dead doing anything less than…well…hero-like. It gets to be a strain, you know?”
“My personal experience has only led me to be seen as villain, so I can’t really relate.”
“Well, almost like the other side of the same coin. We’re trapped in role expectations.”
Snape squinted. “And trapping plastic rainbow mice is supposed to be a liberating exercise?”
“Yeah, exactly! We’re defying convention.”
“Come on, just pick a mouse, any mouse!”
Snape exhaled, exasperated. “Just…random pick.”
Harry smirked. “I think…I’ll give you pink.”
Snape scowled. “I do believe…you’re trying to get onto that list…after all.”
Nevertheless, they played the game…well, at least, Harry played the game, with Snape serving as a stand-in under duress, just watching dismally as the boy made all the moves on the board for both of them until his pink mouse got eaten by the grinning hippo, to Harry’s great satisfaction.
“Getting you out of that crib on Halloween was a sorry decision, and my late mouse would agree,” Snape snarked automatically, then seemed to second-guess his words.
Harry blinked, astonished that he would mention that night as part of their play. His teacher looked equally astonished he had let it slip out. But now the boy’s curiosity was piqued. “Were you the one who got me out of the house that night? You know, after you…found me there?”
“Might have done.” He shrugged. “I don’t recall.”
“Look, first point, contrary to your preconceived notions, the world does not revolve around you,” Snape stated. “Second point, I…wasn’t in a particularly clear frame of mind. After discovering…what had happened, it all becomes rather disconnected. There are images that come back to me at times, but they are not properly threaded together.”
“What’s the next thing you remember clearly?”
“Waking up,” he mumbled, “and suffering from a terrific headache.”
“Had you been drinking before…?”
“Damn your eyes, no!” he shot back, and Harry realized he probably shouldn’t have brought alcohol into the conversation. “It was…the result of a potion, evidently. I must have tried to kill myself before Dumbledore had me brought around for more punishment. He’d bought my soul by then; he wasn’t going to just let it slip away from him.” He sighed. “I tried once before to end myself when I was still a boy. And I swore to myself to try once more after war’s end, if something else didn’t get to me first. I had my hopes it would be third time lucky. But it seems someone is always trying to intervene on my behalf for their own ends.” He gave Harry an indicative glare.
“Hey, fortunes of war,” Harry shrugged.
“Yes, so I’ve heard,” Snape responded. “You’d probably be tickled pink if you thought I could possibly survive this venom coursing through my bloodstream so you could have had the pleasure of personally depositing me in Azkaban.”
Harry’s rather cocky expression softened a little. “I…I wouldn’t have let them send you to Azkaban, Snape.”
“You seriously think you could have stopped them?” Snape shot back. “What do you think, you run the world, my hero?”
“I just meant…I’d do whatever I could to help out…with my influence…”
“A lot of good that would do,” he snorted.
“Look, I do have something of a fan club at this point.”
“Ode to joy.”
“I’m just saying I did sort of achieve some notoriety here, and couldn’t have really made it that far without…you know…help.”
“True that,” Snape acknowledged, rolling his eyes. “But that does not detract from the fact that a certain headmaster got himself decidedly…electrocuted.”
“Well, yeah, but per his own request,” Harry noted. “And he was kind of like poisoned.”
“Try and explain that to a board of inquiry,” Snape challenged, then added more softly, “Try and explain that to your own conscience. It doesn’t work, believe me. I’ve tried.”
Harry exhaled. “I guess…yeah, I see your point. You probably would have been toast.”
“From the mouths of babes.”
“Who are you calling a babe?!”
“I’ll call you whatever I please until my dying breath, maggot.” Snape shook his head. “At any rate, this is no longer my world. You, at least, got the satisfaction of destroying the dark lord. What matters life and freedom when time and the chance for glory have passed by?”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” Harry began, “I used one of your spells in the last battle.”
“You…did?” he queried dubiously.
“Yeah. So in a way, you kind of did kill him. Just…through me.”
“Which spell was it you used?”
“The one you used on Professor Lockhart that day in wand dueling class.”
“Oh, for the love of…” Snape huffed.
“Hey, for once you had the entire male population of Hogwarts rooting for you when you knocked that obnoxious braggart flat.”
“Just what I always wanted…your generous approval.” Snape widened his eyes sarcastically.
“Well, it proved to be memorable, that’s all.”
“Did I ever mention that I don’t really approve of your pirating my original spells?”
“I seem to recall you….getting a bit riled over it in the past,” Harry admitted.
“‘Fight back, fight back!’” Snape mimicked Harry in a weird high-pitched imitation. “That was just…genius.”
“Well, I thought you were like…totally evil at the time, and top death-eater!”
“All the more reason why launching my own spells at me and challenging me to crack your skull open with a single blast was not particularly sound logic.”
“But I was mad! And I really, really had it out for you at that point.”
“Join the salon. But therein lies one of the fundamental differences between us, Potter: I am capable of control over my emotions, while you are quite obviously not.”
“Well…you’ve shown some emotion too, recently.”
“Your point?” he snapped. “I had just been mauled by a giant snake, and had to find myself looking at you with that inanely stupid expression on your face, knowing that the future of the world rested upon your slim, slumped shoulders. Anyone would get emotional over that.”
“Hey, my shoulders aren’t slumped!”
“You’ve always had abysmal posture…”
“Okay, okay, back to square one,” Harry back-tracked. “Look, the reason I was a little…blanked out back there was because…watching giant snakes attacking their victims can be intense.”
“You don’t say?”
Harry sighed. “Yeah. Besides…whatever else I thought you were, you were still my…teacher, or at least you used to be, and…I couldn’t just forget that when I saw you getting hurt.” He paused for a spell. “You know, back there, I never would have thought we’d be doing this.”
“I mean, it’s like…we’ve known each other forever, and been at odds with each other forever. And now we’re just sort of…”
“I was going to say coexisting…and it’s all sort of average in a way that makes the whole thing anticlimactic.”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “You could have….ended it, you know. A long time ago.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Our first year feud. After I found out you knew the guilty party was Quirrel, not me, I was waiting for you to…say something.”
Harry turned his eyes down. “You mean…apologize for jumping the gun and thinking you were the culprit?”
Snape shifted. “And some.”
“And like…that time we…set you on fire?”
“And maybe I could have…thanked you for saving me at Quidditch? And like, getting your leg half gnawed off by Fluffy trying to head off Quirrel?”
“That thing….was named…Fluffy?”
“Yeah, that was Ron’s reaction when he found out about the name,” Harry noted. “Weird, right?”
Snape shook his head, as if to shake the disconcerting notion of a ferocious three-headed dog having a name like some little old lady’s corgi, in addition to the disconcerting notion that he and Ron Weasley had shared a common thought pattern. “Regardless,” he muttered. “Yes, getting back to what was just articulated, I think those would have been some substantial areas of discussion which you could have…approached me about.”
“I just….didn’t know how to go about it,” Harry admitted. “You obviously still thought of me as mud either way, and….I don’t know. The way you kept staring at me, like at the end of the year feast. It just…”
“I was waiting for you to…look at me,” he mumbled.
“I…I thought….” Snape paused, trying to think out what he was saying. He remembered that first year feast vividly. It was the year Dumbledore had snatched the winning points away from Slytherin last minute, disregarding Snape’s own exertion on behalf of the school during the previous episode, and his feelings on the issue. But he still somehow expected some type of end of the year closure with the Boy Who Lived. “I thought your eyes would say to me what had to be said, no words needed. And…I could have…managed to meet them, perhaps.”
Yes, if he had seen something in those eyes that bespoke the least shred of remorse or gratitude or understanding, he might have managed to look back. He probably would have given him an eyebrow raised, haughty, “oh, really?” glare in return. But at the base of it would have been a tacit truce, a realization that at the end of the day, they were on the same side.
“I would have still gone hard on you, Potter,” he admitted. “But the feud might have ended in its intensity, all the same. You would no longer have been…”
“James?” Harry filled in.
“I might have tried harder to give you…the benefit of the doubt. But…you did not look.”
“Okay, so maybe….we all made some mistakes. Like we just…judged each other so fast, we didn’t even think it out straight.”
“I was thinking straight,” his teacher retorted.
“Good grief, you can’t go expecting me to take all the blame here! You were rough stuff a lot of the time with little or no reason! You’ve got to admit that!”
“I was trying to knock some survival skills into you lot of weaklings,” he grumbled, then sighed. “However, I will admit in retrospect that perhaps I….I laid it on a bit thick at times.”
“You don’t say?”
“There you go with your cheek again, boy,” he growled. “Just confirms my methods with you scurvy little ne’er-do-wells…”
“Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.” Harry grinned. “Glad you’re still here to tell me off, Snape.”
Snape rolled his eyes. “You just want someone to coerce into playing ‘Mouse Trap’ for some sort of infantile group therapy.”
“Sure,” Harry agreed with a sparkle in his eye. “Hey, there’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Well, I…stumbled across something I don’t think you meant to give me. It was in one of your books, the Tennyson one?” Harry started digging in his coat again, and produced what looked like a really crumpled piece of note paper. “It’s apparently a memorandum, from a certain first year Slytherin…”
“It’s dated Hogwarts, First Year,” Harry confirmed. Then, with a satisfied smirk creeping across his face, he started to read: “‘Dear Future Self, I am writing to inform you that I have accomplished my mission…’”
“‘I know what she wants for Christmas. I saw her looking at it in a shop window during a field trip. The trouble is that the price is beyond my range of payment. However, all is not lost…’”
Harry smiled wider as he read, and remarked, “Is this really you?”
Snape grumbled something inarticulate and scathing. Harry took it as a reasonably close confirmation that his estimation was correct.
“You were a much more positive person than you are now.”
“One of those childish maladies that was happily outgrown,” he snapped.
“Don’t say ‘happily’,’” Harry chided. “It’s a bad word, you know.”
“Would you just…conclude this pain-effusive recitation, for the love of Merlin?”
“Okay, fine,” Harry agreed. “So…ah, here we are…you go on to say: ‘I have been working secretly to perfect a spell I have in mind. If it proves successful, it shall be my first ever original addition to the Spellery. I have included instructions on the back of this note paper…wish me well, future self!’” Harry flipped over the paper. “Wow! The first spell of the Half-Blood Prince!”
“Give me that thing!” Snape snapped, making an awkward lunge for it, though he was too far away to reach.
“Oh, come on! This should be in some sort of creepy museum display!”
“The museum of Askaban’s most wanted?”
“Hey, that’s a cool idea!”
“Don’t bother to thank me…”
“Like some sort of Hall of Infamy! That could make a pretty penny in tourist intake!”
Snape squinted. “I never realized what conniving little vultures I was teaching all these years…”
“I’ve so got to test this out!”
“You wrote the necessary items down…can you toss me that pillow?”
“Why should I do that, you artless young knave?”
“Because you said that this spell needs one.”
“Really, Potter, you need…to get a real job.”
“Fine, great, whatever,” he shrugged. “Just…gimme!”
Snape grumbled, but ultimately thrust the pillow at him in annoyance, just to shut him up. He watched as Harry proceeded to toss it on the floor, whip out his wand, and start to repeat the Latin incantation written on the paper. There was a zapping sound, and then…
“Whoa! What…is that thing?!”
Snape sighed. “It’s a typical Potter butchery of a simple procedure which I was able to create and execute with masterful skill in first year.”
“Yeah, but…what is it?”
“You mean what is it is supposed to be?” he corrected. “Didn’t I already mention that you trying to mimic my spells never ends well? Why must you torment a dying man with these futile exhibitions of incompetence…?’
“Are you ever going to spit out what it is?!”
Snape sighed. “A stuffed reindeer.”
Harry looked at the disproportionately stuffed, goggly-eyed item dubiously. “My mum really wanted that?”
“My professionally rendered version…had…class. You just distorted it beyond recognition. Furthermore, you wasted a perfectly usable pillow, and created a nightmare inducing eyesore which is tortuous to gaze upon.”
“You don’t cut anyone breaks, do you?”
“Not if it can be helped. Your father gave me enough strife over that project.”
“What did he have to do with this?”
Snape looked at the ceiling. “He…bought the damn bloody thing for her from the shop.”
“Oh,” Harry exhaled. “Sorry about that.”
“You shouldn’t be sorry,” Snape snapped. “Your existence depends on him beating me in my efforts with her, and he was beating me even in first year. You shouldn’t be sorry at all.”
“Yeah, but your younger self was more…sympathetic, somehow.”
“I don’t want sympathy!”
“You’re not getting any; it’s for your former self alone!”
Snape made a strange noise, like grinding his teeth together. “Former self…was a very silly creature to think…anything good could…come of this place.”
“Nah,” Harry countered. “Maybe that little bit of hope in the beginning kept you from completely falling apart later on.”
“Whoever said I was falling apart, loggerhead?”
“Nobody! I just meant…”
“But I might just do so if you don’t remove that monstrosity staring at me.” He flailed his arm broadly at the stuffed entity, which looked rather like a cross between a hippo and a giraffe with moose antlers and glittery bug eyes.
“Oh, come on,” Harry shrugged. “It’s kinda cute, actually.”
“It’s a beastly abrogation which deserves incineration.”
“I reserve incineration for dark lords trying to take over the world, not cuddly stuffed animals without a friend in the world.”
“Then just…throw it outside,” Snape offered as an alternative. “Maybe it will get devoured by something with long, sharp teeth.”
“Gosh, you are sadistic.”
Harry sighed. “Here, I’ll just throw a blanket over it…”
“You already ruined my pillow; now you’re taking my blanket?”
“Well, hey, you should have written a counter-spell or something!”
“My life…became increasingly complicated, if you haven’t figured that out already.”
“Well, maybe this is what the dark lord needed all along.”
“I’m…not following you…”
“A stuffed animal, all his own. He was probably deprived as a child, and then just took it out on the planet in sort of a mass temper tantrum.”
Snape’s eyes started to glaze over. “You’re proposing that my first spell was really destined to save the world?”
“Yeah, you should have focused more on perfecting it.”
“Alas and alack.” Snape raised an eyebrow. “Now would you kindly get your bloody self and your bloody creation and your bloody board game out of my already over-assaulted viewing range? I want to rest in peace.”
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.