by Tari Gwaemir
The textbooks don't tell you everything.
Ever since their first year, Lupin sat across the aisle from Snape in Potions. Mostly they ignored each other and rarely had occasion to acknowledge the other's existence beyond the unfortunate fact that Snape almost never brewed a successful potion, while Lupin always followed directions to the letter and never once failed to achieve the right color and consistency. (A born prefect, with the insufferable Gryffindor righteousness to boot, sneered the Slytherins.) Unlike Black and Potter who could not let a class go by without commenting on Snape's clear incompetence, Lupin hardly blinked at the strange fumes and odors constantly emitting from Snape's cauldron.
He did wonder aloud why it was that Snape, who got perfect marks on all his Potions essays, became so abysmal when it came to practical application. Black, who used cauldrons inlaid with gold and never had any less than the most expensive ingredients at his disposal, gave an ungraceful snort and said, "I'll bet it's 'cause he can't afford half the supplies. He doesn't even have a proper stock of shrivelfigs, last I saw. Remember how he had the nerve to ask Slughorn if he could borrow from someone else."
Fourth year rolled around, and in preparation for OWLS, their Potions assignments became more difficult than ever. Several weeks were spent reviewing the theory behind poison antidotes, and when they undertook their first attempt at brewing their own concoctions, only Snape met with success, to the considerable surprise of everyone in the class.
"How did he do it?" fumed Potter, who up until that point had taken comfort in the fact that Potions and Transfiguration were the two subjects where he consistently had higher marks than Snape.
"Well, you know Snape," Black said dismissively. "All that time spent begging Professor Dumbledore for passes to the Restricted Section. He knows more hexes and curses than anyone in our year; it's no surprise he'd know a thing or two about poisons."
"But we were brewing antidotes," Lupin pointed out, frowning. His own potion had failed, like everyone else's, and a part of him had been rather disappointed. He had rather enjoyed Potions, a subject that demanded no unusual magical affinity or talent other than the ability to read directions as carefully as possible. Or so he had thought. To have failed, for the first time, at Potions when Snape of all people had succeeded!
Thus it was that Lupin began to glance over at Snape's desk during Potions, curious as to how the other boy had suddenly changed places from being dead last in the class to being the only student who could keep up with Slughorn's assignments without a sweat. After a few weeks of clandestine observation, he came to a startling realization: Snape almost never brewed a potion exactly according to instructions. Where a recipe called for ten minutes of stirring, he would add a pinch of wormwood and boil for five. Where a recipe called for four grams of diced rat spleen, he would use three and slice it thinly instead. And yet, Snape's improvised potions did not smoke or smell these days but did everything that they were expected to, sometimes performing better than the original formulation. Lupin felt a little irritated at the thought and even considered whether there was some sort of jinx on Snape's magic that made him unable to brew potions properly the way he was supposed to.
Finally, he found himself standing in front of Snape after Potions, watching the other boy wipe out the inside of his cauldrons as the rest of the students filed out of the classroom.
"What is it, Lupin?" Snape said without looking up. His voice was, as ever, hostile and unpleasant.
"Why is it that you never brew potions according to the textbook?" Lupin asked bluntly, crossing his arms in front of his robe.
"What, is the model student jealous?" Snape smirked as he flicked his wand to shrink his cauldrons and roll up his parchments. "Go back to your little friends, Lupin, before they kick you out of the Boys' Club for fraternizing with the enemy."
"You've been doing it since first year, I'll bet. That must be why your potions never worked until now."
Snape paused. He stared at Lupin intently, then ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Look, at first, it was because I was too embarrassed to admit that I couldn't afford to buy half the required ingredients or supplies. Even my cauldron, mortar and pestle, all this came secondhand. So I started looking for ways to brew potions more efficiently. Economically, I mean."
"Oh," Lupin said and thought back on the shortcuts he had observed. "Oh, I see."
"And then it became a game. My marks were bad already, so what did I care if my potions didn't work. I spent the time experimenting and figuring out better ways of doing things. The textbooks don't tell you everything, you know."
Lupin felt taken aback. He had always studied his books assiduously but it had never occurred to him that there was anything more to be learned.
"Anyway, now you know. Go blab it out to the entire school for all I care. You'll never be able to catch up to me, Remus Lupin." Snape scooped up his books and parchment scrolls in his arms and marched out of the classroom. The door slammed shut behind him.
Lupin never did regain his top spot in Potions, and by the end of the year, it was generally agreed among all the Houses that there was never a born Potions genius as brilliant or as arrogant as Severus Snape.