View Full Version : Meetings - COMPLETED
September 24th, 2003, 1:25 pm
This is basically about Snape's time as a Death Eater, before the Potters were killed. I originally posted it on the Snape POV thread last year, and I thought it was time I re-posted it here in the Library in the hopes of catching some new readers... :) I should warn you that the first few chapters are pretty horrible, and then there are some quite intense moments later on.
DISCLAIMER: I don't think these disclaimers would stand up to legal scrutiny, but obviously I've used JKR's characters and plots and, equally obviously, have no intention of making any money out of them. I just wanted to write a Snape story.
You can leave feedback here (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?p=982929#post982929)! (And thank you very much to Inkwolf for making this link for me. I had no idea the old feedback thread had vanished... :) )
June 11th, 2004, 2:07 pm
The First Meeting
Snape peered interestedly through the eyeholes of his mask. Lucius had told him a little about some of the other Death Eaters, mentioning no names of course, and Snape hoped to able to fit the descriptions to the hooded figures standing with him in the circle. He was irritated by his own ignorance at Hogwarts he had always known the answers in fact Dumbledore once said no! he mustn't think of Dumbledore anymore. Trust. The word seared across his mind. Wasn't it trust that had destroyed his family? Wasn't it trust that had made him think he could start again at Hogwarts? Wasn't it trust that had led him to the werewolf? He allowed himself a grim smile behind the safe confines of his mask. Black and Potter! They were so full of themselves! Flaunting their defiance of the Dark Lord as if they were safe from his power...
Snape shifted his weight, trying to ease the tension in his legs, and the movement caused the sleeve of his robes to brush against his left arm. The pain, Lord Voldemort had said, would serve to show him the fragility of flesh. Snape knew this, and saw the logic behind it, and yet... But the oath he had sworn 12 hours ago could not be undone, and the dull ache of his newly-made Dark Mark was a reminder that Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, was now his master.
"Kneel down!" hissed the Death Eater to his left, and Snape realised that he had been so lost in his own thoughts that he had failed to notice the arrival of Lord Voldemort. He hesitated a moment - the idea of kneeling down to any human being was repugnant to him, no matter how powerful they were - but the pain in his forearm was immediate, as if he were being branded again. He knelt down.
"Welcome, dear friends," said Voldemort, softly. "You will have noticed, I am sure, that we have a new member with us tonight. He is young and naοve but we know that he will not be so for long, don't we?"
There was a murmur of appreciation from the masked figures. Snape could feel himself becoming indignant. Naοve? He knew exactly what he was doing! After so many conversations with Lucius Malfoy about the philosophies and beliefs of the Death Eaters he felt he knew as much as any about what they would be doing. He thoroughly agreed with the idea that wizards should live apart from muggles (his own parents had shown him that...) and if this involved the use of violence to scare them well, so be it. As for Lord Voldemort's desire to conquer death Snape's intellect was excited by the challenge. He had already started making notes on magical (and non-magical) ingredients that served to prolong life. People who stood in the way of this were fools. They were holding back the proper development of the wizarding world, standing in the way of progress. People like Potter, Black, Dumbled no! The Dark Lord was still speaking.
" completed his first mission, he will be a true Death Eater! However," and Voldemort's voice took on a harsher tone, "some of my older servants would do well to remember the oath they took." He pointed his wand at a tall figure opposite Snape, and a silver rope uncoiled from the end, dragging the man into the centre of the circle. "You were supposed to kill Dorcas Meadowes," said Voldemort, "and yet my sources tell me she is still alive. Is this incompetence or disobedience? Do you not feel the burning of my mark upon your arm?"
The man was cowering now, on his hands and knees, grovelling towards the hem of Voldemort's robes. Snape turned away in embarrassment, unable to witness such debasement. However
"You!" Voldemort's wand was pointing at Snape now and, guided by a sharp twinge in his arm, he slowly stepped forward. "This man has failed me. He is a muggle-loving fool, unable to follow the simplest command. He must be punished. You will perform the Cruciatus curse. Now."
There was no warmth in Voldemort's voice, no better side to appeal to. Snape realised that this was a test of his own nerve. But the Cruciatus curse? He had never used it, except once on a bluebottle during a particularly bleak Christmas. Gradually, as he stood uncertainly in the centre of the circle, a new and stronger pain began to build and spread from the mark on his left arm as if his bones were splintering, his muscles tearing, his veins exploding. He knew, now, that this agony would not cease until he had obeyed his new master. He couldn't bear it anymore. He raised his wand in the air and, through gritted teeth, whispered, "Crucio."
Snape watched as if from a great distance as the man on the ground writhed and twitched but it was over in seconds. The pain in his own arm, which had seemed to diminish slightly, redoubled - and Voldemort said, "More."
Seeing now that there was nothing he could do to avoid this, no-one else who would take responsibility for either his own or this man's pain, Snape said, "Crucio," and breathed more calmly as his left arm relaxed. He managed to hold his concentration for more than a minute this time, maintaining a steady pressure with the Cruciatus curse, before the effort became too much and he lowered his wand.
"Again," said the Dark Lord, implacably.
"Please!" cried the man, as tears streamed down his face. "I tried, my Lord, I wanted to obey your commands. It was just so hard. Let me try again! Ple-"
"CRUCIO!" cried Snape, trying to drown out the man's voice, to stop him from awakening any kind of response within Snape's own conscience. "CRUCIO!" he cried again, as tears of relief rose up in his own eyes. There was no pain in his arm now it had all transferred to this man; this incompetent, disobedient man. Snape knew that this was how it should be, how the Dark Lord wanted it to be. He felt that he was a channel for Lord Voldemort's anger. It was Lord Voldemort punishing this man, not Snape. The pain was Lord Voldemort's responsibility. He was the Dark Lord's servant. He was no longer even aware of the man screaming on the ground, the man whose body was stretched in a spasm so unnatural that it looked as though he would break in two. He was nothing. Everything he had ever been was gone. He could never go back. Not now. How could he face Du
As Snape's concentration on the curse wavered, the screaming stopped. It was over.
"So," Voldemort said, looking at the man trembling at his feet, "you have felt the wrath of Lord Voldemort. But still I sense the rebellion inside you, the reluctance to carry out my bidding. Will nothing teach you? Perhaps so. Maybe if I sent our keen young friend here to visit your family..."
The man fell to the ground, clutching at Voldemort's robes. "No, my Lord! I swear, I will do whatever you wish. Only spare them my family, my children..."
"Yes, it is as I thought," said Voldemort, quietly, "You do care more for your family than for my own wishes. You are disloyal. It seems that nothing will change that. Your family will be killed." At this the man gave a small whimper and turned to the Death Eaters who were still gathered in a circle all around, as if he hoped they would protect him. For the first time that evening, Voldemort smiled, "But first I will kill you." And, before Snape could turn away, before he could even close his eyes, Voldemort had screamed the killing curse. There was a flash of green light and, as Snape's eyes re-adjusted to the dark, he saw that the man's lifeless body now lay, arms outstretched as if in supplication, at his own feet.
June 12th, 2004, 9:59 am
The Second Meeting
He had been about to set off on another surveillance expedition when he had felt the Dark Mark burn and had disapparated instantly. His reaction was instinctive, beyond the levels of rational thought. He didn't even know where he would appear, or who would be there but he could remember being told of the summoning power of the Mark. Had it been Malfoy or the Dark Lord or who had explained this? His memory was obscure over the past few months he had successfully managed to suppress all thoughts of the events of that first day, that first trial.
He apparated to what looked like the entrance hall of a mansion. Light shone past a half-open door. Peering through the gloom as he walked cautiously towards the light, he could see no other Death Eaters. Was it a trap? Perhaps the summons only came when the Dark Lord had to punish one of his servants? Panic rose in his mind as he quickly tried to recall any way in which he might have disobeyed or betrayed his master. He knew well enough how swift and merciless the blow would be. He stood in the doorway, uncertainly.
"Come in, Severus," said a cold voice from the shadows. "You do well to fear me, for I could indeed destroy you."
Snape swallowed, trying to subdue his fear, and stepped into the room. Lord Voldemort was standing by the window, looking out at the darkening sky. To his surprise, Snape found that he wasn't going to beg and plead for his life. He still had pride, then? He stood up a little straighter.
"But you are fortunate," continued Voldemort. "I have heard much praise of your work especially your knack for shadowing people, learning their habits." Snape nodded, trying to look pleased, trying not to think of what had happened to those people. The Bones family, the Prewetts. "And now I find that I need someone with the skills you possess to carry out a special mission."
There was a pause. Seeing the Dark Lord again had awakened his memories of that first meeting. He was reliving each moment, now, as his master looked on. He couldn't stop himself. The oath. The branding. The discomfort of the mask although with each meeting he had attended he had come to rely more and more on the security it provided, shielding his face from the eyes of his fellow Death Eaters, hiding his emotions. The man, writhing on the ground. The man, begging for mercy even in death. To distract himself, he looked up once more. Voldemort was smiling. "What is it you wish me to do, my Lord?"
"It will be a simple task for you, my shadowy friend. Although if you succeed I shall require greater things of you. However, for now you have merely to discover the identities of any children, whether pureblood or mudblood, born at the end of July."
Snape was taken aback. This wasn't what he had been expecting at all. Children? The Dark Lord had never mentioned children before. He felt a twinge in his arm. He must answer. "Very well, my Lord."
"Use any means necessary to complete this task. I will give you one month, and then," Voldemort's smile vanished his face seemed devoid of all humanity, "you will be summoned. Go. Now."
Trying as hard to suppress his feelings of relief as he had the earlier panic, Snape disapparated at once and reappeared in his own shabby house. Wasting no time, he sent a note by owl to Lucius Malfoy, informing him that the current surveillance mission had been cancelled but saying no more than that. There were hierarchies of information within the Death Eaters. Either Lucius would know of Snape's new mission, or he would not either way, it was not Snape's place to tell him.
Even now, even here in his own home, he could not relax. He might be safe from the Dark Lord's eerie ability to sense his emotions, but he had to be constantly on his guard against his own thoughts. For the last few months he had survived only by trying to avoid any kind of self-examination. He was not always successful and had found that it was best to do, to be active. But he could not find the energy even to get out of his chair. He was tired, tired of trying to ignore the realities of his life. He had been naοve to think that there would be some nobility in allying himself with Lord Voldemort. He could see that now. He was a servant, with no more control over his own destiny than a house-elf.
A wave of anger and self-revulsion blasted through him. He had caused death. He had caused pain. Was he such a coward, such a pathetic man, that he couldn't even face up to the facts of his life? A small voice in his mind told him that, logically, these things would have happened whether or not he was a Death Eater. If he, Snape, had not discovered that the Prewetts were enemies of the Dark Lord, then somebody else would have. In a way, he was sparing some other faceless person they would never have to face the blackness of their own souls. But he had been through this argument with himself before. More denial. If he was so proud of sparing another soul why had he not spared his own? He already knew the answer. Stupidity. Pride. Vengeance. Potter and Black - so arrogant in their boasts of standing against the Dark Lord. It had taken Snape only moments to decide that he would stand against them. Must he always be so impulsive?
He leant forward, his head in his hands. As he had realised, on the day he received the mark upon his arm, there could be no going back now. He had no choice, but to survive as best he could.
With a sigh, he reached for a quill. Children? First he would need to write to Rookwood...
June 13th, 2004, 4:02 pm
The Third Meeting
Snape was ready this time. He had been sitting at his kitchen table for hours now, staring at the wall, thinking always the same thing Potter, Longbottom. It had been relatively easy to find out the names for the Dark Lord, but Snape had gone a little further in his investigation, as he waited for the day when he would be summoned again. He knew why his master required the names. He knew about the prophecy. He knew what was going to happen to those children. Could he accept responsibility for their fate? Maybe it would be easier to lie to Lord Voldemort. He could invent names. He could say that no-one had been born at the end of July. Or and this might work he could give only one name. He only knew the Longbottoms by reputation Aurors. But the Potters? He knew how cruel they could be, how arrogant. Maybe they deserved a little misery? What kind of life would that child have, anyway?
The mark on his left arm began to burn, the pain spreading through the muscles. He stood up. The time for thinking was over. He disapparated.
It was the mansion again the same hall, same light, same doorway, same eerie stillness. He tried to clear his mind as he knocked on the door.
"Enter, Snape," said Voldemort, in a cold, high voice. This time he was standing with his back to the fire. "Your mission was successful, I trust?"
This was it, his chance. He tried to breathe. "I am sorry, master, but there were no childr -"
"You lie!" said Voldemort. Suddenly Snape was on his knees, clutching at his left arm, trying somehow to stem the flow of pain, burning agony stabbing through his mark. Voldemort studied him for a moment and then said, "There is no point in trying to lie to me, Severus. I can always tell. And you know that this pain will not end until you tell me the truth."
The pain had spread past his arm now, he could feel it, like tendrils of fire creeping through his body. Dimly, through the white noise filling his ears, he could hear Voldemort say, "Give me the names."
Barely capable of coherent thought, Snape just knew that he couldn't do it he had to survive. The name uppermost in his mind burst from his lips, "Potter!" But there was no relief. If anything, the agony grew worse. He was tearing at his own body now, trying to rip the pain away. "L-Longbottom!" he gasped. As the pain subsided, he fought to stifle the sting of tears he could feel in his eyes. Laughter broke the silence. Lord Voldemort was laughing?
"Potter?" said Voldemort, almost to himself. "How very ... convenient. Very well. They are easily dealt with. I have my spy in place, do I not? But the Longbottoms..." here he seemed to rouse himself, to come out of his reverie. "I see that I shall have to make use of your skills again, Snape, in order to reach the Longbottoms."
Snape looked up in surprise. He had managed to get to his feet whilst Voldemort was talking, although he had to hold onto a nearby table for support.
"Yes," Voldemort said, "I shall need three Death Eaters to carry out my plan, if Aurors are involved. You will liaise with the Lestranges, Snape. But first, for your pathetic attempt at deception -" Voldemort pointed his wand at Snape, "crucio."
His whole body felt the burning fire of pain. It was unbearable, unending, excruciating. He was twitching uncontrollably on the floor, retching, gasping for breath. And yet, at the same time, it was almost a relief to be unable to think. The burden of his own thoughts was lifted, even as he sank under the weight of his agony. He could sink forever. He could die.
And then it stopped.
"There is no need to kill you, Snape." **** him! Was there no thought hidden from him? "You are useful to me. You know now that you cannot deceive me. And you cannot betray me for who would protect you? Where would you go? You have no family anymore." At this Snape flinched. "You have no friends. You have no loyalties to anyone. You are bound to me now, through your actions, and you will soon discover that you will never be free."
Snape felt as though he was on the point of collapse. How had his life come to this? He listened dully as his master issued instructions owls to be sent, contacts to be made all the while despising himself for a coward and a fool.
"You may go," said Voldemort, finally.
Snape did not apparate back to his own house. The physical confines of the walls would only remind him of the more subtle prison the Dark Lord had constructed for him. He paced back and forth on a nearby hill, as clouds scudded past the half-moon above. The tears came now, as he wept for the man he'd hoped to be, grieved for the life he had lost. The Dark Lord was right there was no-one he could turn to. No-one he could trust. Trust. Maybe there was someone, after all...
June 14th, 2004, 11:32 pm
The Secret Meeting
Snape did not sleep that night. It was imperative that he act now, before the situation grew out of control. By morning, having covered his floor with torn and scribbled-over pieces of parchment, he had finally managed to compose a message that did not give too much away:
I have information which may prove useful to you. Lives are at stake. Send your reply with this owl it will know where to find me.
He did not sign it, of course. He may be desperate, but he was not foolhardy. It was the work of a moment to attach the note to his owl's leg, but there were several minutes of deep, thoughtful silence before he released the owl at an open window. And then, as the owl soared northwards and the sun rose over the hill, Snape slumped back onto a chair at the kitchen table and, finally, fell asleep.
Hours later, he awoke, ravenous and confused. What had he done? As he piled slices of bread and cheese onto a plate, he tried to recollect. He'd had a dream something about a hilltop, a decision, a message... He froze, the sandwich halfway to his mouth, as icy horror flooded his mind. That was no dream. How, why had he taken such a risk? What if the Dark Lord were to find out? He always seemed to know what his servants had done. How could Snape hide this from him, if he couldn't even tell a straightforward lie about the children? Unconsciously, he began to scratch at the mark on his arm a habit he had acquired before it had completely healed. Now it was just a patch of dark red skin, hairless and slightly wrinkled. Scratching achieved nothing, but the action was oddly comforting it seemed to make him feel better to try even this small, pointless attempt to remove the Dark Lord from his life. At least he had taken some real action now. No matter how foolish it had been to send a message so openly to one of the Dark Lord's enemies events were now set in motion. Whatever happened now, he could be certain that his days of service to Lord Voldemort were ending either in death or freedom.
The remainder of the day, what little there was left of it, Snape spent vainly trying to do the tasks set by Lord Voldemort. He had to contact the Lestranges, saying just enough to make them understand the importance of their new mission, but on no account mentioning either the prophecy or the Longbottoms. Normally, Snape would find this kind of thing easy a cryptic puzzle which they would be able to unlock, using pre-arranged ciphers. Tonight, however, his mind couldn't settle to the task. Every sound a twig snapping, a moth beating its wings on the window, the furniture creaking comfortably as the temperature dropped caused him to jump from his chair. In the end he simply left the back door open, so that the owl could fly straight into his house with whatever reply it might bring. By midnight he had managed to write one inelegant and inadequate sentence, and had almost decided to stick his head in the fire and use the floo network to contact Bellatrix (nevermind the risk of being overheard by Ministry spies). He got up to make a drink needed to keep his head clear and heard, as he did so, a low hoot behind him. There on the kitchen table was his reply.
Leaving the owl to eat his leftover sandwich, Snape settled himself back into his chair, moved the lamp closer, and quickly scanned the message. It did not take long.
Hog's Head, Thursday, 8pm, ask the barman for a pint of shandy.
For Snape, the next few days disappeared in a blur. He could never afterwards recall what he'd done. They were blank territory in his mind. And perhaps this was for the best, for they were days full of doubt. He had hoped to attain some kind of peace by making contact with the other side. But instead he was doubly afraid. What if it was a trap? What if his trust was misplaced? What would happen if the Dark Lord discovered his betrayal? What if the mark summoned him when he was at the Hog's Head? Perhaps it would have been easier to say what he had to say by owl avoid any kind of meeting at all. No. He would lose the only thing he had to bargain with his inside knowledge. Too late, he thought of making polyjuice potion. Impetuous as always, he had missed the chance of using the perfect disguise. Of course, he could always postpone the meeting but his information would lose its value the longer he delayed.
By Thursday morning he was frantic. He considered wearing a disguise, and almost settled on wearing his Death Eater mask it would at least obscure his face. On second thoughts, though, he realised that it would probably scare the customers of the Hog's Head to them, Death Eaters were the enemy. This thought halted his agitation. He was the enemy to these people. Therefore it was important to be prepared. He packed a small bag with money, floo powder (for a possible escape), strong poison (for a final escape), and checked that his wand would be easily accessible. He bewitched the hood of his robes to make them impervious to any other human touch no-one but himself would be able to pull the hood back to reveal his face.
At 7:55pm he disapparated, and appeared a moment later a couple of dozen yards down the street from the pub. This was it. Possibly the most important conversation he would ever have in his life. He patted his pocket for reassurance the bag was still there. So. He walked as steadily as he could towards the Hog's Head. Fifteen yards. Ten yards. Four yards. A few more paces. He opened the door...
June 18th, 2004, 12:22 am
The Secret Meeting II
Even with his hood pulled down low over his face, Snape could tell that the pub was packed inside much busier than he remembered from his Hogswart days. Then, it had been a quiet refuge during Hogsmeade weekends, the one place where he could relax, away from Potter and Black. He had enjoyed his visits here, spending hours over one drink, trying to put off the inevitable return to the school and its stiflingly unimaginative lessons. He'd never learnt anything really interesting there nothing he didn't know already, anyway. Dumbledore had been the only decent thing in the place. The man really knew magic. If only Dumbledore could be made to see the sense in the Dark Lord's beliefs. Snape had a feeling that the separation of muggles and wizards would be progressing with a lot less bloodshed, if Dumbledore were in charge.
He fought his way through the crowd to the bar, noticing as he did so that many people had their faces hidden by hats, hoods, veils, bandages. He smiled not very subtle, Dumbledore! After several impatient minutes at the bar, he finally got the man's attention and ordered his 'shandy'. The man glanced sharply at Snape and then, as he handed him the drink, leant forwards to murmur, "Go through to the back room. He's expecting you." Snape nodded, and slipped as unobtrusively as he could through a doorway to the side of the bar.
Snape was startled to see how old Dumbledore looked, sitting alone, staring ruminatively at his tankard. Hastily, he re-adjusted his hood as Dumbledore looked up. Snape placed his drink carefully on the table and sat down opposite him.
"Good evening! Are you the mystery man?" The expression in Dumbledore's face had changed swiftly to one of joviality, the tone of his voice was too bright. Snape could sense the tension beneath his words.
What was the point in prevarication? If he was lulled by idle chatter he could easily give something away, some clue that would enable Dumbledore to identify him. "Yes," Snape replied in a hoarse whisper he must remember to disguise his voice! He decided to go straight to the main subject. "As I wrote in my message, I have information which you would do well to know. I will give this to you, in return for certain ... assurances."
Dumbledore raised a quizzical eyebrow, "And what exactly would they be?"
Snape quickly rehearsed in his mind, one last time, his list of demands, and then said, "You do understand of course that by giving you this information my life will be made forfeit. I will need protection. A new identity. A secure place to live, beyond the reach of the Dark Lord's power. A guarantee that I will not be prosecuted or sent to Azkaban by the Ministry of Magic. And a guarantee that I will not be harmed by any of the witches and wizards gathered in the front bar most of whom clearly work for you."
"In return, you will tell me ... ?"
"In return, I will tell you that prophecy is no longer unknown."
At this, Dumbledore gasped and half-rose from his seat.
"Sit down," Snape hissed. "If you make a scene of any kind then I will leave right now and you will never know what else you might have discovered."
There was a long silence between them. Snape just managed to stop himself from scratching at his left arm again, and Dumbledore suddenly spoke, as if he had been waiting for some movement. "How much has he learnt?"
"I will tell you nothing more until I have your word that my demands will be met." Snape was, unbelievably, enjoying himself. So far the conversation had been entirely predictable, except that he hadn't expected to feel so much pleasure at both seeing Dumbledore again, and dealing with him as an equal. Since joining the ranks of the Death Eaters, he had had to learn how to deal with difficult situations. The old Snape would not have had so much self-control but now, here he was, forging a deal with his old headmaster and actually winning!
Dumbledore heaved a long sigh. "Very well. You have my assurance that I will provide what protection I can; that you will have somewhere safe to live, somewhere impenetrable to dark magic; that I will vouch for you should the Ministry ever ask you to testify; and of course the people in the front bar will not harm you. They are there for my protection."
It was all Snape could do to keep the elation out of his croaky voice, as he answered, "Thank you. I will accept your assurance as a binding promise. And so, onto what I know. As I have already said, the prophecy has been discovered by the Dark Lord. And more he now knows which children fulfil the criteria." Snape's voice wavered a little at this point, as he remembered the part he had played in this. The elation evaporated. "His servants are already formulating a plan. The Longbottoms are to be traced -"
At the mention of the Longbottoms' name, Dumbledore's hand started shaking and he hastily put his tankard down.
"- as soon as possible. He has a spy in place for the Potters."
Dumbledore leapt to his feet, knocking the table over in his agitation. Snape fumbled for his wand and dropped his bag to the floor. Whilst he was still untangling his hands from the sleeves of his robes, Dumbledore had covered the distance to the door and vanished into the front bar. Beneath his hood, Snape's face crumpled. So much for trust. He knew what would happen next, and watched it all unfold in his mind's eye. A gang of Ministry witches and wizards would come through that doorway, he would be bound by some Auror's curse, and that would be that. Well, he would rather take his chances, thank you very much. He would rather face death at the hands of the Dark Lord than be publicly humiliated by the Wizengamot. He would rather face death at his own hands than receive a Dementor's kiss. He bent to pick up the bag, checking that the bottle was not broken, and swiftly turned as he heard a noise behind him.
Dumbledore had come back, and was shutting the door behind him. Snape checked his hood yes, he was still safely anonymous. He watched Dumbledore warily as he moved slowly towards Snape. Gently, tentatively, Dumbledore reached out to rest his hand on Snape's shoulder. With a look of great pity on his face, and in a voice full of sorrow, he said, "What happened to you, Severus?"
June 18th, 2004, 10:24 pm
The Secret Meeting III
A moment of tense silence.
At Dumbledore's words Snape froze, although his mind was in a state of utter chaos. How had Dumbledore recognised him? It may have been a lucky guess. He might still get away with it if he stayed calm. Dumbledore couldn't possibly know. Dumbledore didn't know.
Finally, Dumbledore broke the silence. "I had suspected of course that my anonymous informer might be an old Hogwarts student, else why choose to contact me?. But I had no idea..." His voice died away, and Snape took the opportunity to step back, out of his reach. He felt that the safest thing to do was to give nothing away, to remain silent.
"I confess," continued Dumbledore, "that I am at a loss, Severus. Why would a student with the potential for greatness I might add why would this student choose to ally himself with Lord Voldemort? Was it something I could have prevented? Like the other members of staff, I was aware of your fascination with the Dark Arts, but I had hoped... Perhaps I was wrong..." again, Dumbledore trailed into silence.
Snape's thoughts were spinning around so fast in his mind that it was impossible to pin any one of them down, to find any coherence. Ideas of escape, denial and defence jostled with memories of his schooldays, of the few conversations he had ever had with Dumbledore, of his sense of betrayal when Black and Potter were not expelled. This last memory was so bitter, the feelings of resentment still so fresh, that Snape almost spoke, wanting to challenge Dumbledore, to say that yes, he had made mistakes, he had let Snape down. However, he would not be taken in by such an obvious ploy Dumbledore was trying to provoke a response. Let him try! Snape felt he was back in control again.
"But then," said Dumbledore, seeming to rally himself, gather his own thoughts, "perhaps something happened after you left Hogwarts. There were high expectations, as I recall. Career opportunities with the Ministry, and the chance to do further research into antidotes at St Mungos. But you seemed to vanish, almost without trace. Except for that report in the Daily Prophet, of course..." and Dumbledore looked very carefully at Snape, "I was shocked to hear that your father -"
"Don't," said Snape, at last, letting his hood fall back so that he could look straight into Dumbledore's face.
Snape met Dumbledore's gaze unflinchingly, although it felt as though a searchlight was illuminating the deepest recesses of his mind. He had expected Dumbledore to look triumphant, for he had forced Snape's hand so easily. Instead, he saw only an expression of deep concern. Dumbledore was worried about him? He did not want pity! Abruptly, Snape turned aside, blinking away a tear. Dumbledore, as if he had been waiting for a cue, moved back to the fallen table and set it upon its legs once more.
Snape had spoken to no-one of his father's death. No-one. The circumstances had been unusual enough to warrant a newspaper article at the time, but he had refused to give any comment. It had been tacitly understood, he knew, that he was in shock, suffering a grief too overwhelming for words. But when Snape had been told that his father was dead, his first feelings had been of relief. It was as though the huge weight of years of oppression had finally been lifted from his shoulders. Shame followed immediately such unfilial emotions! He had rejoiced in his own father's death! And now, more than a year later, he had come to realise that he would be carrying this new burden his private shame for the rest of his life. The relief, the lightness of being, had lasted less than a day. He could not forgive his father, and he could not forgive himself. **** Dumbledore, for mentioning him now! He needed to sit down. Numbly, he lowered himself onto the nearest chair.
As Dumbledore righted the table and picked up the tankards, now lying empty on the floor, he said, "Another drink, I think?" and, without waiting for a reply, went back to the front bar.
Snape was completely alone. He could hear his own heartbeat, and every throb of his pulse hammered into his mind like a fist. Beat what could he do now? Beat what if he'd chosen differently? Beat - would the guilt never end? Beat why could he not let go? Beat why had his mother -? Beat his loneliness. Beat his life. Beat his fear. Beat his father. Beat. Beat. Beat.
The noise of Dumbledore's returning was a welcome distraction. Snape tried to regain control of himself, even if he could not maintain control of the situation. He hadn't come here tonight, he hadn't risked his life, to talk about his family. He took a deep, long drink from his tankard, and smiled ruefully at Dumbledore. "So, now that you know who I am, what do you propose to do?"
"Do?" said Dumbledore, with a puzzled frown. "I'm not sure what you mean, Severus. I think I gave you my assurance that your demands would be met, did I not? I cannot break my promise, and indeed I see no reason to. I am sure that you had what you thought were excellent reasons for joining Lord Voldemort -" Dumbledore paused slightly, as though expecting Snape to interject, "- and similarly compelling reasons for leaving." Again he fell silent.
Snape felt irritated. Dumbledore was trying to manipulate him into some kind of personal revelation. There were more important things to discuss, surely! "With respect," he said, heavily, "my life is in danger and I must know how exactly you intend to meet my demands. How will I be protected? Where will I live? You were very quick to agree. Does this mean you already know of a place somewhere beyond the scope of the Dark Lord's powers?"
"Yes," said Dumbledore, slowly. "I would be interested to know, however, exactly how much time we have. A week? A month? More, perhaps? What exactly is Voldemort planning to do?"
"I do not know!" Snape shouted, slamming his hand onto the table. As Dumbledore raised a warning eyebrow, Snape lowered his voice, saying, "I have told you what I can. He has yet to trace the Longbottoms, but with a spy in place with the Potters I can only assume that he will attend to them first presumably as soon as possible."
Dumbledore nodded. "I see, and if his suspicions were aroused if he discovered that James and Lily were aware of his plans we would have even less time."
"But how could the Dark Lord suspect...?" And then Snape paused. He saw now what Dumbledore was driving at. He saw his life, his misery, continuing. He saw that escape had been only a dream. A wave of despair washed over him. "I'm going to have to go back, aren't I?"
June 20th, 2004, 12:13 am
The Secret Meeting IV
There was no answer from Dumbledore perhaps because he was giving Snape a choice? For a fraction of a second hope rose in Snape's heart. He didn't have to return to the Dark Lord. Escape was still a possibility. And then - and then he returned to the truth. Why must the truth always be so hard to face? There were no warm corners in Snape's life, no reassuring facts he could comfort himself with. He rested his head in his hands, noticing as he did so that his left arm felt a little stiff, and saw that his future would unfold as bleakly as his past. His whole life had been like this, as if it were a punishment but what had he done to deserve it? Every choice he had made had seemed inevitable at the time. Would this choice too lead to more pain? Another harsh truth to be faced later? He would be facing the Dark Lord later, and that would certainly lead to more pain, once he discovered Snape's betrayal. Of course!
"I can't go back," Snape said. "He will know that I have turned, he will know immediately. He has powers..." and Snape remembered that last meeting with his master, when he had longed for death. Death seemed the only solution now as well he could remain with Dumbledore, thus alerting the Dark Lord to his treachery, and stay in hiding and fear for the rest of his life; or he could return to the Death Eaters, be discovered as a traitor, be tortured, be killed. Either way, he would have to watch, a useless spectator, as the Dark Lord grew in strength, as Dumbledore and the Ministry tried to defeat him, as those children Neville and Harry were destroyed. It was fortunate that he had remembered to bring poison tonight.
"You mentioned Voldemort's powers before," replied Dumbledore. "What precisely does he do? If it's merely a case of using the Unspeakable Curses -"
"No!" said Snape. He could feel the muscles in his neck and jaw tensing as he realised he was going to have to explain something of the Dark Lord's methods of communication and control. He was scratching his left arm again how long had he been doing that? Was that why it felt so stiff? Had Dumbledore noticed? He picked up his tankard best to keep that right hand occupied he wasn't yet ready to reveal that mark, the symbol of his servitude. "He... He has the ability to know... He can sense... It is impossible to lie to him, or to disobey him." There, he had said it.
Dumbledore leaned forward. "When you say 'impossible'
"I mean he can... somehow... sense it, and then the pain starts..." In fact, now that he'd mentioned pain, Snape noticed that there was a kind of dull ache around the mark on his arm. He hadn't been aware of it starting it must have grown very slowly in intensity all through their conversation. It wasn't as sharp or as overwhelming as it had been when he was in the Dark Lord's presence but there it was, nevertheless it felt as though someone was pressing onto a fresh bruise. Was this because he was betraying the Dark Lord, by revealing his secrets? Could he, as he sat far away in his mansion, also feel this bruising and know that one of his followers was a traitor?
"The pain starts..." prompted Dumbledore, patiently.
Snape tried to ignore this new sensation in his arm at least it didn't seem to be getting any worse, and it was bearable. "Yes, the pain starts when he realises he has been deceived. Or disobeyed. Although, actually, there is a kind of background ache that occurs whether he knows or not." Yes that seemed to be what was happening now. He tried not to look at his left arm. It didn't hurt much. Not really.
"So," Dumbledore said, thoughtfully, "Voldemort can sense your emotions your guilt and shame? Has he ever, for want of a better phrase, read your mind?"
At Dumbledore's words, Snape's ears were immediately filled with the sound of Voldemort's cold voice, saying, "There is no need to kill you, Snape." He had felt then that none of his thoughts could be private in the Dark Lord's presence, as he heard his master reply to his unspoken wish for death. Snape looked at Dumbledore and nodded, mutely.
"Ah," breathed Dumbledore, "Legilimency."
June 21st, 2004, 12:47 am
The Secret Meeting V
Snape glanced sharply at Dumbledore. Legilimency? Why hadn't he thought of that? Suddenly, a half-forgotten memory from his childhood resurfaced in his mind. His parents fighting. His father had been drinking and had ... invaded his mind, not trusting Snape, demanding that he be obedient in thought as well as deed. He had begun to lose consciousness when his mother had stepped between them. His parents had argued all night and, as he had sat in the corner, trying to pluck up the courage to apologize to his father, Snape had known it was all his fault. Even now, so many years later, Snape could still hear his father's voice, slurred with fire-whiskey, saying, "Legilimens!"
"How could it be legilimency?" he asked Dumbledore, now. "When my fa- when I've witnessed other people practising legilimency, they've said "legilimens" as they do it. He said nothing he just seemed to know. And I could not feel him in my mind. There was no hint of another presence. When I was a ch-" he broke off, hastily. How could he explain what it had felt like, when his father had crashed into his thoughts? It was as though he had been reading the pages of Snape's life and tearing them out, one by one. Dumbledore would think him insane. He tried to think of a better, less personal, way to describe it. "I have noticed that, to the mind being accessed, legilimency can feel like a blunt instrument."
"But with Voldemort you feel nothing, even as he knows your thoughts? Well well," and Dumbledore sounded impressed, "then it would seem that Voldemort is a highly talented Legilimens." Seeing the frown developing on Snape's face, Dumbledore continued, "As you say, legilimency can be like a blunt instrument when used by an unskilled practitioner. However, for a skilled Legilimens, it can be a very delicate operation . And of course, as one develops a talent for fine-tuning one's own thoughts, one also loses the need to say anything out loud."
Peering shrewdly at Dumbledore, Snape said, "You're a Legilimens, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I am, Severus." He smiled apologetically at Snape. "I try not to use it too much, of course it has always seemed a very underhanded way of getting to the truth. However, there are times when it can seem like the only reasonable course of action."
A suspicion was forming in Snape's mind. "That's how you recognised me, isn't it? You used legilimency?"
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "When you arrived, this evening, I had no idea whether or not you could be trusted. It seemed a sensible precaution to take." There was a knock at the door. "Excuse me, Severus," said Dumbledore as he rose to answer it.
Snape leant back in his chair, using this moment of solitude to reflect on the thoughts he had had since he walked into this room. How much had Dumbledore seen? Had he been a party to all of Snape's memories and fears that evening? Snape was angry. It was so unfair! How could he protect himself from an attack he couldn't even feel? He knew that occlumency was the only defence, of course. Once, during his childhood, he had found the strength to defy his father, to suggest that he would learn occlumency, that his father would never again know what he was thinking. His father had replied, with grim satisfaction, that occlumency was almost impossible to master, could not be learnt from a book (this with a sneer), that only a handful of wizards could do it well. Snape the child had been defenceless. What about Snape the man? A resolution was made. The children, his master's intended victims, were defenceless too. The resolution solidified, became a plan. He must act now! Where was Dumbledore? Waiting was intolerable. He got up, intending to find Dumbledore at once. At the same moment the door opened and Dumbledore returned, looking relieved.
Before Snape could speak, Dumbledore said, "That was Stur- ah, that is to say, a colleague has just informed me that James and Lily have been warned of the imminent danger. They are taking the necessary measures to protect Harry, even as we speak. The Longbottoms have similarly gone into hiding. I suspect your fellow Death Eaters will find it difficult to trace them." He was beaming at Snape now. "You have a lot to proud of, Severus."
"I could do more," said Snape, as soon as Dumbledore finished speaking. He felt that he was standing taller than usual. He felt proud, strong. "I could find out more."
"Are you sure you know what you're suggesting?" asked Dumbledore, although he did not look surprised.
"Yes." Yes, Snape knew. He would have to be constantly alert. His life would be always on the edge of death. He would be alone if anyone were to get to close to him they would become a liability. He would be living in fear. But he had always been afraid, his whole life. This time at least he was walking into the fear he would be prepared. "Yes, I know. But I could use occlumency, could I not? I could shield my mind from the Dark Lord. He need never know, as long as I was careful."
"You are not an Occlumens, Severus," said Dumbledore, gently. "It takes work, patience, self-discipline. It takes time."
"Well," said Snape, a trace of a smile on his lips, "there are still nine hours until morning. Teach me, now. Tonight."
June 22nd, 2004, 12:04 am
The Secret Meeting VI
It was one o'clock in the morning and, in Dumbledore's study, Snape was on the brink of total collapse. He had made such excellent progress at the beginning! After years spent hiding his emotions and guarding his thoughts, he had become very adept at suppressing fear, anger, uncertainty, guilt emotions that would immediately draw the Dark Lord's attention to his disloyalty. He had emptied his mind of negative thoughts, he had, he thought, attained calmness and self-control. But it seemed that this was not enough. Again and again, Dumbledore accessed half-buried memories from every chapter of Snape's life, being deliberately unsubtle so that Snape would be in no doubt that his defences had been broken. He felt as though he had spent the last few hours reliving all the worst moments of his life events he would never have recollected if Dumbledore had not pulled them out and forced them to the front of his mind. He was staggering now, unable to cope with the confusion of images that were crowding his mind.
"Some fresh air might be in order," said Dumbledore, looking concerned. He crossed the room and opened one of the windows.
The door, which had been left ajar so that they would hear any unexpected visitors climbing the spiral staircase, suddenly blew open as wide as it could and then slammed shut with an almighty crash. Several of the sleeping portraits woke up, startled by the noise, and then, as Dumbledore nodded very slightly, immediately closed their eyes and began to snore tactfully. Snape saw none of this unspoken exchange, however the slamming door had given him an idea. As he once again tried to clear his mind of unhelpful emotions, he started to picture a building with many rooms and doors and he methodically began to close them all. This was it! He could seal all of his most incriminating thoughts safely out of reach of the Dark Lord he could lock the doors. As the last door closed, Snape turned to Dumbledore and said, "Again. Try again." He took a deep breath and waited.
Seconds later Snape was once more reeling under a barrage of random memories. It hadn't worked! What was he supposed to do? He felt like giving up. But mastering occlumency was his only chance for survival. He was going to have to try again, but not yet. To buy himself a little more time, Snape went to the open window and breathed in the cold, damp air.
Dumbledore sighed. "Closing doors is not enough, Severus. Any capable Legilimens would instinctively try to open them and there would be nothing you could do to stop that."
"Then it seems to me that nothing could stop a gifted Legilimens!" Snape spat. He was defeated. There was no hope.
"On the contrary, Severus you're very close to succeeding. But you have to do more than simply seal off sections of your mind. It draws attention to the fact that you have something to hide." Dumbledore sat down at his desk, seemingly as exhausted as Snape. "An element of misdirection is needed as well. The contents of a human mind are generally very disordered, and any sign of organisation will consequently stand out."
Snape gazed blankly out onto the castle grounds. Dumbledore's words made sense but how to go about it? In the dim light of the waning moon he could just make out the deeper shadow that was the Forbidden Forest. Perhaps if he pictured his mind as a forest, or flung a barricade of dense woodland infront of his building? But Dumbledore would hack down the forest, fight through the woodland, and there would be that building an obvious target. No that wasn't the solution either.
"I wish I could be more helpful," said Dumbledore, speaking slowly, as though he was choosing his words with great care, "but it is essential that you find your own style of defence. Occlumency and Legilimency are highly personal skills no two wizards practise them in the same way. If I were to explain, step by step, exactly how to shield your mind and you consequently followed my instructions what would happen? An artificial path would be created through your own thoughts and that would lead any Legilimens straight to your concealed emotions and ideas. Do you understand, Severus?"
"Give me a moment," replied Snape. He was beginning to understand, finally, what he had to do. In his mind, the image of the building was wiped out by an unending forest, each tree a memory or thought. The suspect, dangerous ideas appeared no different from any other but the paths of the forest seemed, quite by chance, to avoid them. Would this work? He approached the front of Dumbledore's desk and, looking steadily into his eyes, said, "I'm ready now."
Nothing happened. If felt to Snape as though there was the ghost of a presence walking through his forest but no memories engulfed his thoughts, and his darkest fears remained hidden. He looked questioningly at Dumbledore.
"Much better! Yes you're almost there, Severus."
Almost? He had succeeded in blocking Dumbledore's attack! "But you didn't access my mind! What more do I have to do?" Snape could hear the despair creeping back into his own voice.
However, Dumbledore seemed quite amused. "Well, I would only observe that, as a rule, people do not tend to fill their minds with forests. Even though it worked, it looked rather suspicious. I have been a Legilimens for many years now, Severus, but I have never before visited a mind so beautifully and carefully depicted." As Dumbledore continued to speak, Snape sat down and massaged his aching head. "You have achieved a great deal tonight. Indeed, you have created a defence that would stop any Legilimens. However, we are trying to prevent Voldemort from accessing only certain parts of your mind. We are trying to hide from him any suggestion that you might be practising occlumency. I suggest you try to deal with the raw materials, rather than their appearance."
And this was the difficulty. Snape did not want to face his anxieties about the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters, the torture and death, the humiliation and pain, his own culpability. Not in front of Dumbledore. Although he had been through many nights of solitary anguish, he still did not feel ready to disclose that pain to Dumbledore even if, through legilimency, he had now witnessed more of Snape's life than anyone else.
"I think, Severus," said Dumbledore, quietly, "that now might be a good time for you to answer that question."
"Question?" What was he talking about? The only question dominating Snape's thoughts at that moment was whether or not he was going to survive his next meeting with the Dark Lord.
"The question I asked several hours ago. What happened to you?"
Snape remained stubbornly silent.
"Come, Severus. It is time you saw yourself truly. Why did you become a Death Eater? And, more importantly, why did you come to me?
June 22nd, 2004, 9:24 pm
The Secret Meeting VII
Snape could feel the anger building up inside. He had been through so much that night elation, despair, pride, shame, hope, fear and he had now reached the very limits of tolerance. He needed to learn occlumency! He had to protect himself! Didn't Dumbledore understand that? For Snape it was either success or death. He noticed that his hands were shaking. His vision blurred. No! He was not going to break down. He was just tired. Dumbledore must have waited until this moment deliberately, hoping to use Snape's weariness to his advantage. A small, horrified voice in Snape's mind suggested that maybe this whole evening had been a trap. Perhaps Dumbledore had tricked Snape into opening his mind. When Snape had revealed enough information about the Dark Lord, the Death Eaters, the events of the last year would Dumbledore have him sent to Azkaban? The shaking was becoming obvious he folded his arms to control it.
"Why ask me now?" he said, struggling to keep his voice steady.
"Severus, if you are to master occlumency then you must "
"Yes! Exactly." Snape interrupted, anger over-riding his doubts. "We should be concentrating on occlumency, not wasting time on the whys and wherefores of my life."
Dumbledore stood up, his eyes flashing dangerously. "This is not wasted time! It is essential that you understa-"
"WHY NOW?" Snape shouted, springing from his chair. As if in warning, the curtains billowed gently with the breeze from the open window, and Snape continued in a quieter tone. "Why are you suddenly so desperate for answers? Why?"
"It is not I who needs answers, Severus," said Dumbledore, beginning to pace around the room, frowning Snape into silence. "If you truly wish to master occlumency then you must be in absolute control of your mind."
"I am " Snape began, but Dumbledore carried on.
"As you are very well aware, tonight I have shared in many of your thoughts, your memories, your fears. When I explored your building, I noticed several corridors filled with dust and cobwebs clearly never visited by you. When I roamed through that delightful forest, I could see that the path avoided certain dense thickets again clearly never visited by you. As clever as these constructs are, they merely serve to demonstrate that you are hiding your thoughts as much from yourself as from an intruder."
Snape said nothing. He was thinking of how easy it had been to create the building and the forest in his mind, remembering certain corridors with turnings he had ignored, and the way the forest path had seemed to avoid the dangerous areas by chance. What if he were to turn a corner, step off the path? What would he find? What would his master find? What had his master already found?
"Surely the Dark Lord would have already noticed them," said Snape. He was still too agitated to sit down, and was masking this by pretending to study the portraits on the walls. "And if I were to deal with them now, or try to remove them, he would suspect."
"But if you do not deal with them now," Dumbledore replied, "you will never be able to practise occlumency effectively. You must know the contents of your mind absolutely if you are to have any control."
"And then he would know," insisted Snape. Could Dumbledore not see? Once more Snape seemed to be faced with a choice of death or ... death. Wearily, he sat down.
"Please understand that I cannot give you a full explanation. I can only say again that it is imperative that you reach a solution on your own. And so I must ask again why did you become a Death Eater?"
In Snape's mind he could see himself walking along a path underneath a dappled green canopy. He forced himself to step off the path, to try to reach the darker interior of the wood, but before he could...
"Black. Potter." Snape muttered. Why try to hide anything from Dumbledore now? "How could I be on the same side as them? They made it very clear that they considered me the enemy when we were at Hogwarts. Oh yes, their attempt on my life made that very clear. They should have been exp-"
"You are stalling, Severus," said Dumbledore with impatience. "This is not the answer."
"Potter and Black, always together, always cruel. I always knew they were potential murderers." snarled Snape.
"You know very well that James did not know of Sirius's plans that night. He risked his life to save you," snapped Dumbledore in return.
"I could have been killed, and what did you do? Nothing. I trusted you to do the right thing, to punish them. You did nothing." This was a confrontation that had been long delayed. When he had been a student, he had been too much in awe of his headmaster to question his judgment. Now, it was such a relief to be able to finally say this to Dumbledore that Snape felt light-headed.
"On the contrary, I did everything I could. I gave Sirius a second chance," replied Dumbledore, looking directly into Snape's eyes. "I saw someone who had made mistakes, taken unwise decisions, caused others pain through his actions. I saw someone who regretted his past. I wanted to give him the opportunity to make something better of his life. Everyone deserves a second chance, Severus."
Obviously Dumbledore wasn't talking only about Sirius, and Snape didn't know what to say to this. He had a sudden urge to laugh. Dumbledore could be so exasperating! He had wanted, almost needed, to shout and rage at this man. Pithily worded sentences, composed and stored over many years, were queuing up in his mind waiting to be spat out. And with one short speech Dumbledore had side-stepped the whole issue, turning it into a comment on his, Snape's, need for forgiveness. He mumbled something about "completely different situation," but Dumbledore had started to speak at the same time and did not hear him.
"Severus, your desire for vengeance against James and Sirius is not enough to justify becoming a Death Eater. You could have revenged yourself on them quite easily without choosing to serve Voldemort. You must discover the true reason."
In the forest, a glade had appeared where previously there had only been brambles. Sunlight danced on the undergrowth, but there was another thicket further ahead where no light could penetrate. Reluctantly, Snape pushed his way between the trees and...
"The Dark Lord is not altogether wrong," he said. This was his chance to explain his master's theories of separation to Dumbledore. They had made so much sense to Snape that he could not believe Dumbledore would not agree, once he understood. "I mean," he continued quickly, trying not to notice the appalled expression on Dumbledore's face, "of course it is wrong to kill and torture, to cause so much suffering to others. But consider his goal to keep wizards and muggles apart. His methods are wrong, but ultimately it would be for their own good."
Shaking his head, Dumbledore said, "And why do you think it so important to separate muggles from people like us? Dig a little deeper, Severus."
Snape was tripping over twisted roots, branches whipping his face. Dumbledore must know how difficult this was for him. It would be much easier if Dumbledore simply told him what he was supposed to be looking for, and then they could get on with the occlumency lesson. This wasn't going to happen, though. He struggled between two saplings and found himself in a dark, damp, lifeless place. Broken reeds were reflected perfectly in a stagnant pool. On the ground lay fallen twigs and branches, so decayed that it was hard to imagine they had ever been alive. He moved forwards through the darkness, accidentally kicking something a stone or a piece of rotten wood. It landed in the water with a soft splash and, as the ripples spread from the centre of the pool...
June 23rd, 2004, 10:27 pm
The Secret Meeting VIII
"My parents," said Snape, softly. Was he really going to have to continue? Dumbledore already knew the miserable details of his parents' marriage. He glanced across the desk. Yes, Dumbledore was looking expectantly at him, waiting for more. "They were never happy together should never have married. He was always so I mean, he was very strict. How could she defend herself? She was only a muggle." He stopped.
"Go on," said Dumbledore, as the silence lengthened.
"She tried to run away once. Did you know that? Didn't get very far, though. He brought her back. Made her stay. Promised he'd be kinder. And she trusted him. Even I, young as I was, could see how foolish that was. He did try for a while, a few weeks, but... In the end she... You know she... " Snape tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He hated Dumbledore for this! "She killed herself." He fiddled with a loose thread on the hem of his sleeve, wishing that Dumbledore would look away. "If she'd been a witch she would never have had to resort to that. If she'd been a witch they might have been happy together. Everything would have been different... " He cleared his throat and stared for a few moments at the phoenix, asleep on its perch. Why couldn't Dumbledore look away? "And then my father was was killed. I didn't even know she had a brother! He's in a muggle prison now. And my parents are dead. Muggles should have nothing to do with magic. The Dark Lord is right about that."
Dumbledore removed his glasses and wearily massaged the bridge of his nose. "Not every marriage between a muggle and a witch or wizard ends in tragedy, Severus. Has it never occurred to you that it may have been your parents' personalities, rather than their magical abilities, that caused them to live so unhappily together?"
In the forest, a small shaft of sunlight broke through the gloom, illuminating the far side of the pool. Snape, ignoring this and trying to hold onto the beliefs that had fuelled his decisions, frowned at Dumbledore and said, "If she had been a witch she wouldn't be dead. She would have fought back. It was because she was a muggle-"
"No, Severus," said Dumbledore, quickly, "it was because she was unhappy. She did not have to kill herself. There are always other options. But that is what she chose to do. If your father had been a muggle, like your mother, he may still have driven her to choose suicide as an escape from the marriage. I know this is difficult for you to hear," he said, as Snape shifted mutinously, "but let me repeat, relationships between muggles and wizards or witches can and do turn out very successfully."
Another beam of light shot down into the clearing, and birdsong and the hum of insects disturbed the silence. Snape did not want to let go, though. Even though Dumbledore's arguments were rational and sensible, almost the exact reverse of Malfoy's reasoning. As a bee tumbled out of a nearby bluebell, Snape angrily berated himself. What was he so afraid of? It didn't take a genius to see that Dumbledore was right about this. He had never, not once, really seen his mother for who she was. Always he had pictured her through the filter of 'she was a muggle.' He had simplified his parents' problems in his mind. He had acted like a child, and had never stopped seeing them with a child's eyes. They were dead. He should let them go. He stepped forward, the light briefly dazzling his eyes before he plunged once more into the tangled interior of the wood.
Seconds or hours later, for time had no jurisdiction in this forest, Snape stopped abruptly. The darkness was absolute, the silence deafening. Tentatively, he edged one foot forward. There was nothing, no ground just space. He picked up a stone and threw it into the pit, straining his ears for the sound of its landing. Nothing. He backed away.
"Severus? Have you found the answer?"
"I er I was intrigued by the Dark Lord's ambition to achieve immortality," replied Snape, talking very fast. "How could I refuse such an opportunity the chance to create the most sought-after potion in our history?"
"You could have developed such a potion at St Mungo's," Dumbledore retorted. "You are stalling again. I ask you once more why did you become a Death Eater? Why did you come to me?"
Snape stepped up to the edge of the void. He wouldn't survive if he fell into it. How could he?
"A D-Death Eater friend of the f-family favour," he stuttered, clutching at his head, hiding his face. He didn't want to die like this.
"No, Severus!" said Dumbledore as he strode around the desk and grabbed Snape's shoulder. "Say it."
"I " Snape rocked back and forth on the brink of nothingness. "I was afraid," he mumbled.
"More than that!" cried Dumbledore, his grip on Snape's shoulder very tight.
He had no choice. He fell. And, as the blackness engulfed him, a white-hot rage erupted inside and he screamed at Dumbledore, "I WAS AFRAID! I HAD NOTHING!" He jumped out of his seat, away from Dumbledore, who he couldn't help noticing was looking oddly pleased. "I WAS LONELY!"
The chasm in his mind was growing, pulling everything down into it. Even as the chaos was threatening to overwhelm his thoughts, he could hear a small voice in his mind. Was that it? That's what he was so afraid of acknowledging? Loneliness? Self-loathing began to build in his mind. He was weak. Pathetic. Had he really ruined his life's chances just to have some company? Never again, he swore to himself. From now on he would rely on himself alone.
"Legilimens," said Dumbledore, from the other side of the office.
June 24th, 2004, 11:49 pm
The Secret Meeting IX
Now? Snape straightened up. Had he been right to suspect a trap? His thoughts were unravelled, plain for Dumbledore to see. The man could hardly have picked a better time to access his mind. Snape paused for a moment, concentrating hard. Yes. He could sense Dumbledore's presence, picking through the disordered contents of his head. Carefully, Snape began shuffling his thoughts, bringing certain ones forward, letting others fade into the background. He created decoys, imitations of the sealed-off areas he had just explored. Without seeming to, he led Dumbledore on a guided tour of his mind. He was puzzled. Was this occlumency? It didn't seem hard enough. The connection was broken. Snape's mind was his own once more.
"Excellent!" Dumbledore smiled, lowering himself back into his chair and retrieving his glasses. "Most impressive, I must say. I think we can safely call you an Occlumens, Severus."
"So that was occlumency," said Snape, thoughtfully, pacing around the circumference of the room. "Not so very difficult to learn, after all."
"But rather ... unpleasant to teach, unfortunately," said Dumbledore. Snape raised an eyebrow. "The instructor has to ah encourage the learner to take their own mind to pieces, to examine all the contents. Understandably, the learner is generally reluctant to embark on such a procedure, and the use of force is often necessary. I will admit that I find it quite tiring these days."
Snape stopped pacing momentarily and asked, "Is legilimency similar? Could I learn it now, after going through... now that I am an Occlumens?" Just saying the word out loud made him feel triumphant.
"The art of mind-investigation does have similarities with occlumency, yes," Dumbledore replied, warily, "but we have done enough for one night. Yes, yes, we should leave legilimency for another day. You must be tired."
It wasn't a question. And Snape, with his new self-awareness, could also sense that Dumbledore was keeping something back. So he didn't want Snape to become a Legilimens? Did Dumbledore think he would not be able to do it? Or was he trying to keep Snape from exploring other people's minds? Did he still not trust Snape, even after this long night? But he was tired, it was true. Very well. But he would learn legilimency, eventually. He would give Dumbledore no choice. After all, as a spy, Snape was now an important man. A new thought occurred to him, and his lips curled in a private smile. There would be no harm in trying to learn legilimency on his own. It couldn't really be very different from occlumency. He could practise on unwitting subjects Crabbe and Goyle sprang instantly to mind. Dumbledore interrupted his thoughts.
"The weather has turned to rain, Severus. Not a particularly tempting prospect if you were considering walking to the edge of the school grounds and disapparating. You will be drenched."
Snape had no idea how he was going to get home. Disapparation seemed the best solution. Floo powder he still had his pouch. But he was sure that Dumbledore's hearth was not being monitored by Ministry spies but, once he joined the public network, they would be sure to spot him. Even though they did not know he was a Death Eater, it would look very suspicious to be travelling at 4 o'clock in the morning. No, floo powder was only to be used in desperate situations.
"Would you like to use one of the school brooms?" asked Dumbledore.
"No! Er thank you," said Snape, immediately. He'd never had much luck with brooms.
"Then might I suggest that you use Fawkes?" At the sound of its name, the phoenix awoke and gently glided onto the desk. "He could easily carry you, if you held onto his tail-feathers."
Snape felt a little uncertain about this, but nothing better occurred to him. So, having made arrangements for future contact how to keep it secret, what codes to use for time and place Snape followed Fawkes to the open window, took one last look around the room, and gingerly seized a handful of feathers. Before he had a chance to say 'goodbye' to Dumbledore, he was speeding through the air. On his way home.
June 26th, 2004, 9:50 am
The Fourth Meeting
A fortnight went past. At first it had seemed impossible to Snape that he would be able to resume his Death Eater duties. After the intensity of his meeting with Dumbledore, he had half-expected to find MacNair or Dolohov waiting for him at home to administer the final punishment. His arm had ached throughout that night, stinging most sharply when Fawkes carried him home. How could the Dark Lord not know what he had done? Still, unbelievably, he appeared to be safe, his act of betrayal not yet suspected.
After the first day, spent entirely in deep, untroubled sleep, Snape had set to work. It was important to gather as much information as possible, whilst at the same time preventing his fellow Death Eaters from furthering the Dark Lord's cause. To this end, Snape suggested to the Lestranges that their best option would be to search the area where the Longbottoms were last seen. He joined them on this mission, and was unable to prevent Bellatrix from using the Cruciatus curse on a passing muggle her preferred interview technique. The muggle of course told them nothing useful. For Bellatrix, the solution seemed obvious: find another muggle. Snape managed to dissuade her, however, by suggesting that the sounds of screaming and wailing would draw attention to their mission, their secret mission. Bellatrix had started to argue but fell silent almost immediately, clutching at her left fore-arm. Smiling inwardly, Snape had felt intense pleasure at seeing her suffer due to her disloyalty especially as he had found a way of avoiding that particular method of chastisement.
The pain in his own arm had faded away during that perfect day of sleeping. It had started to return when he woke up but he had experimented with his new gift of occlumency muffling the treacherous thoughts, burying the memories, pushing more acceptable ideas to the front of his mind and this had seemed to work. Perhaps it was a little odd, to be shielding his mind from his own arm but, after two weeks, practising occlumency in this way had come to be part of his morning routine. For Snape, it was now an entirely normal state of affairs.
Snape had said to the Lestranges that torture was not a reliable way of extracting information. There was no guarantee of truth. He had suggested the use of Veritaserum instead, knowing that it would take more than a week to brew. Fortunately, they had agreed. And that was how the situation now stood. Seven days ago he had visited particular fields near his house, scouring their hedges for the plants he needed. He had also stopped briefly in Knockturn Alley for the more interesting ingredients. The potion was now nearly ready twelve hours would do it and he still had not managed to think of another reason for delaying the mission.
Remembering his visit to Knockturn Alley, Snape laughed softly to himself. He had bumped into Goyle outside Borgin's shop and, the opportunity too good to miss, had tried a little legilimency. Snape had formulated several theories about legilimency after his meeting with Dumbledore. Logically, exploring another's mind would be very similar to exploring his own. The key, he felt, lay in projection. He had to make the leap from inhabiting his own mind to dwelling in someone else's. He had to disconnect his self from his thoughts. He had needed to practise, and it had been very easy to persuade Goyle to join him in one of the more secluded lanes off the Alley. Murmuring "legilimens" as softly as he could, Snape had tried to be in Goyle's mind. Nothing had happened to begin with but, just as Snape was beginning to doubt his own calculations, he had felt a peculiar sensation as though he were walking on dough. Brutish images flashed into his mind, and he knew he had succeeded. Snape had broken the connection when he noticed that Goyle was beginning to look puzzled no sense in giving himself away.
He stirred the brewing potion counterclockwise three times and left it to simmer. Twelve hours, and nothing to do. He checked his safe, which was concealed underneath a jar of sunbaked shrew entrails. Yes the phoenix-feather was still there. No need to use it yet because, frustratingly, he had very little to tell Dumbledore. The feather's presence in the house worried him. It would be incriminating evidence, should the Dark Lord or one of his supporters choose to search his home. The seals on the safe were complicated, certainly, but it was still taking a chance even if the feather was the safest way of communicating with Dumbledore.
Snape made a cup of tea and sat down by a window. He was surprised, really, that no-one on the Dark Lord's side realised what he was doing. He had expected more of them, somehow. Could they really be so easily fooled? Was it possible that the Dark Lord was less than he claimed, neither all-powerful nor all-knowing? Perhaps his 'master' was only human, after all? His arm immediately began to burn with pain. The thought breezed through his mind oops, being disloyal again and he tried to rebuild his occlumental defence.
It didn't work.
Instead, the pain intensified, and began to creep along his whole left arm. He felt a burning need to disapparate, now, this instant. It was the summons. Panic claimed his mind. He wasn't ready! The Dark Lord knew! The pressure increased to an unbearable point. He had no choice. He had to go...
June 27th, 2004, 2:18 pm
The Fourth Meeting II
Not the mansion this time, but a deeply-shadowed clearing within what looked to be a pine forest. Snape's panic subsided as he realised Lord Voldemort was nowhere to be seen. The silence was oddly deafening, and the thick carpeting of old brown pine needles on the forest floor ensured that his footsteps made no noise. He was of course reminded of the elaborate forest he had imagined during his occlumency lesson with Dumbledore. Did the Dark Lord know of it? Was this his way of showing Snape that he knew of his betrayal? Were these to be his last few moments of life, walking through a mocking reference to his own troubled mind?
Snape walked the perimeter of the clearing, examining the jumble of thoughts and memories that had been stirred up by the burn of the dark mark. Now that he knew the truth of his own choices, he was shamed by the way he had cowered before Lord Voldemort. It seemed to Snape that he had stooped very low in his desire to be a part of something. And the Death Eater meetings too discussing, and sometimes carrying out, torture and murder and deceit. He could not now deny that he had enjoyed having a position of some significance within the circle. They had respected him, once he had shown his strength, and he had even respected them for their ruthless determination to carry out Lord Voldemort's plans. Now that he could see the emptiness of the Dark Lord's intentions, and the self-delusion of the Death Eaters' belief that pain and fear could ever lead to freedom, Snape felt only scorn.
He was as contemptuous of himself as he was of his former allies. At Hogwarts he had yearned to belong to the inner set of Slytherins. Malfoy had taken a liking to him, and he had been grateful (pathetic, he thought now). He did not like to think of the last few years there, after his older friends and (why deny it?) protectors had left. Small wonder that he had immediately sought out their company once more after he left the school. Looking back on it all, the chain of cause and effect seemed so obvious. Even now, he could tell that part of his fear and insecurity was simply the result of being alone in this forest. He knew, irrationally, that he would feel more at ease if he could hear something the distant call of a bird, or the drone of insects. Wait. There had been something a quiet flutter, as if a bird's wing had grazed the branch of a tree.
He was suddenly aware that he was no longer alone in his mind.
It seemed to him that terror and anxiety rushed through his carefully built defences, churning everything in their wake. Where was the Dark Lord? He wheeled around, scanning the darkness of the forest on all sides, searching in vain for signs of movement. There was a soft rustling in the trees behind him but still there was nothing to be seen. He began to shake. The mark on his arm was throbbing in time with his accelerated pulse and each wave of pain seemed to leave him weaker than the last. He wanted nothing more than to curl up on the ground, to retreat into himself, to shut out the world, to hide from Lord Voldemort.
And then, just as had happened in Dumbledore's study, Snape found he was practising occlumency almost automatically. Lord Voldemort's presence was like a subtle poison, seeping into Snape's mind. It would be ... inadvisable for him to access anything but the surface panic. Fear was acceptable, because Snape had always been afraid in the presence of the Dark Lord. He began the delicate task of altering the appearance of the contents of his mind. In fact, he did not have to change much after all. By a clever manipulation he managed to conceal his decision to switch sides, his meeting with Dumbledore, his new knowledge of occlumency and legilimency by transforming them all into what had previously been the unexplored territories. He sensed (with relief which was immediately hidden) Lord Voldemort approach and pass these areas. Clearly, he was searching for anything new.
Abruptly, the silent invasion ceased. Snape relaxed very slightly, determined to guard his thoughts closely until he was once more safe in his own house. There was another shiver of sound from the trees near the edge of the clearing.
"My Lord," said Snape, as evenly as he could.
"Snape," said Voldemort, with a thin smile. "What a pity you could not be here earlier. You missed Bellatrix Lestrange by only a few minutes."
What now? Had Bellatrix been complaining about his delaying tactics? This choice of meeting-place - a deserted, distant forest - began to take on a horrible significance for Snape. There would be no-one to hear him scream, here. Was it possible that occlumency could block the Cruciatus Curse? No. He wasn't thinking straight. Nothing could block the Cruciatus Curse. What if he were to point his wand at Lord Voldemort now, and say the killing curse? He would have to get it right, or his own life would become instantly forfeit. More stupidity. He knew, as all the Death Eaters knew, how far the Dark Lord had gone in his quest to overcome death. In all probability, saying "avada kedavra" would not even work. He could always stun Lord Voldemort, easily enough, but there would be repercussions - not least of which would be the confirmation of his new alliance with Dumbledore. And Lord Voldemort had not yet accused him of anything. In fact, the pain in Snape's arm had subsided. And the expression on Voldemort's face was not one of anger but of expectation. He must be waiting for Snape to reply.
Hurriedly, Snape said, "I have heard nothing from Bellatrix for several days, master. I hope nothing has happened to endanger our mission?"
"Fortunately, no," said Voldemort. With a slight flick of his wand, he created two silvery chairs facing each other in the centre of the clearing. Sitting down, he motioned Snape to take the other seat. Snape nervously eyed the empty chair, which looked like the outline of an ordinary seat, filled in with swirling silver mist. Gingerly, he lowered himself into it, half-expecting to sink straight through to the needle-strewn ground. It proved solid enough, however, and he was left merely with the worry that silver ropes would suddenly spring from the arms and legs and entrap him here, completely at Lord Voldemort's mercy.
As the ropes failed to materialize, Snape's mind began to fill with other doubts and fears. What exactly had Bellatrix said about him? How much did Lord Voldemort know? Did he dare try legilimency now, here, to put his own mind at rest?
Voldemort, having waited for Snape to sit down, continued. "Our mission is growing more urgent, Snape. The Potters and Longbottoms have, it seems, increased their levels of protection and concealment since your investigations began."
"Indeed, my lord? I was not aware of this." Snape swallowed, and tried to look understatedly surprised. The Dark Lord must suspect that there was a spy within the Death Eaters - a spy who knew of the prophecy and the mission to trace the children. As far as Snape knew, only the Lestranges and himself fitted this description. Still, his left arm was free of pain. What had Bellatrix told her master?
As if in answer to Snape's unspoken question, Voldemort said, "After a little ... questioning, Mrs Lestrange proved very forthcoming. She has admitted that it was her own crude use of force which must have alerted our targets. I have now made it very clear to her that discretion is the key to our success."
In his chair, Snape sagged with relief. This was both unexpected and delightful. It seemed that Bellatrix had unwittingly taken the blame for his own act of treason! If he had actually planned this, with the same care he showed when mixing a potion, then he could not have reached a better solution. "Yes, my lord. I have discussed the need for covert action with the Lestranges."
"Yes, yes," said Voldemort, with impatience. "I know all about this. Mrs Lestrange also told me that you have been preparing Veritaserum, for interrogation purposes. By my calculations, it must be very nearly ready."
"That is true, master. I believe it will be ready by nightfall." By which time Snape hoped he would have hit upon another way of preventing the Lestranges from nearing their goal. He could have simply made a bad batch of Veritaserum, but even Bellatrix's idiot husband Rodolphus would think it suspicious. He had hours yet in which to think of a suitable diversion. Something would come to him. Surely.
"So," Voldemort said, "I assume you will be meeting with the Lestranges tonight and using the Veritaserum to ascertain the Longbottoms' whereabouts. I shall expect to hear your findings tomorrow."
"And the Potters, my lord?" Snape couldn't help himself. He had to know.
"The situation is in hand, Snape," replied Voldemort, with finality in his voice. "You may go."
Snape rose immediately, anxious to get as far from Voldemort as possible. As he prepared to disapparate, he lost concentration on his occlumental defences. The dark mark throbbed with an instant of pain.
Across the clearing, Voldemort flinched and raised his hand. "Wait."
June 28th, 2004, 9:04 pm
The Fourth Meeting III
Snape could feel his own hands growing clammy with fear. Turning around very carefully, he did some of the quickest thinking of his life. This was not a time to be proud. More was at stake than merely his own life, and he would be of no use to Dumbledore if Voldemort were to kill him now. Survival and secrecy were more important than anything else. Instinctively, Snape began rearranging his mind ... shuffling through his own thoughts and memories ... trying to find something useful ... He had it! And the pain in his left arm lessened slightly, although Snape took care to keep some of the burning there. He wanted his master to think he was guilty. It was the only way.
Voldemort was standing up now, pointing his wand at Snape, and frowning. "Why did you ask about the Potters, Snape?" he asked. Even as he was speaking, Snape could feel the slight sensation of coldness as Voldemort crept through his mind.
"I thought - I - er - I wanted to -" Snape stammered. He was trying to feign terror, but at the same time was genuinely afraid of whatever punishment Voldemort might choose to mete out. He was not sure he could face another bout of the Cruciatus curse. Would he be able to concentrate on occlumency when his whole mind and body were consumed with pain? He doubted it, and it was this uncertainty that shook his voice and twisted his face into an expression of apprehension.
"You thought what, exactly? You have no reason to think about the Potters. You should be concentrating on the Longbottoms." With each sentence Voldemort uttered, Snape could feel the pressure of his legilimency increase. "Perhaps you have been in contact with them. Perhaps you wish to change sides."
Throwing himself to the ground and reaching one hand out towards Lord Voldemort, Snape cried, "No, master! I swear - I serve only you!" Snape looked up quickly, gauging Voldemort's reaction, and softly added, "If only I -"
The pressure on his mind suddenly surged, although it was still nothing, a whisper, compared to his father's attacks. It seemed to Snape that Voldemort simply intended to continue searching his mind until it snapped. It would be preferable to bring this crisis to a conclusion as soon as possible. He could feel himself beginning to crumble as he said, "I - I wish - master - I wish - I know - the prophecy -"
Voldemort screamed a howl of rage, wordless and terrifying. Snape knew what was coming next and flung his whole being into keeping control of his occlumental artifice. "CRUCIO!"
For Snape it was a nightmare of pain. He desperately wanted to curl up into a ball, for it was animal instinct that now controlled his body. The entire focus of his mind had to be upon occlumency. Voldemort must not break through. This torture could not last forever. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He had to hold on. Voldemort stepped closer to him. An anguished wail burst from his mouth as the pain became a thousand knives stabbing him at once. He had to concentrate. Prostrate on the ground, his hands scrabbled at the pine needles, trying to find a place to hide. A mantra began to drift through his mind - not long now, it would be over soon. He held onto the words, trying to believe them. Bile rose in his throat and he tried to retch. Not long. His body arched and contracted again and again. Over soon. Teeth clenched against the agony, unable to swallow, eyes wide, Snape endured another wave of pain. Not long. And another. Fire. Over soon. Ice. Not -
"Stand up!" barked Voldemort. His punishment of Snape had clearly not dispelled his anger.
The ordeal was over. Shakily, Snape got up, making feeble attempts to brush the pine needles from his robes and hair as he did so. Had his attempt at occlumency worked? Lord Voldemort had spared his life, so far, which meant he still had a chance. He tried to pull his thoughts into order. The torture was finished but this did not mean that the rest of this meeting would be easy. He needed to know what his master thought. Legilimency was out of the question - he was certainly not proficient enough to try accessing the Dark Lord's mind. He tried to find the right words. "Master - truly - I would never betray you - truly."
"Yes, you're too much of a coward for that, aren't you, Snape?" Voldemort's voice seemed to shake with emotion. Hatred? Scorn? Snape could not tell. But his words struck hope in Snape's heart. He had been tested, and he had survived.
He bowed his head. "My lord."
"Confess, Snape, and let me see if you have learnt to tell the truth." Voldemort turned his back on Snape and walked to the edge of the clearing, staring into the darkness of the forest.
Snape knew, having arranged his thoughts so precisely, that Lord Voldemort did not need to ask these questions. He had the answers already. However, "I - I made contact with Rookwood, master. He helped me gain access to the Ministry of Magic's records of births, and seemed interested in knowing why I was searching for children. When I suggested that it would be wise for him to refrain from interfering, he remarked that he was only curious because of something that he had heard, something about children, and Regulus Black. Naturally I was curious - although I can see now how wrong I was to pry - and so I met Black and ... encouraged him to tell me what he knew."
Voldemort did not respond. He seemed mired in thought. Was he checking to make sure that Snape's words matched his thoughts? Was he deciding whether or not Snape's life should be preserved? Snape desired nothing more than to sit down, and was just on the point of moving back to the empty chairs when Voldemort, still gazing into the lifeless shadows beyond the glade, spoke.
"Black is no longer an issue. I have been assured that ... None of my followers must know of it. None." His voice was so low that Snape could barely hear it.
This was not how Snape had envisaged their conversation proceeding. "Master?"
Ignoring him, Voldemort continued to murmur - apparently thinking aloud. "But I still need the Ministry, of course. Rookwood will be silenced, yes... He can be subdued. And my spy must know... from the Potters...and..."
"Master?" asked Snape again.
"Perhaps this is better," said Voldemort in a louder voice, returning to the middle of the glade. "You are still useful, Snape. This is what I want you to do..."
June 29th, 2004, 10:30 pm
The Closed Meeting
The first thing Snape did upon returning to his home was to check the Veritaserum - hoping to find a problem. With still almost ten hours to go, it was simmering quietly and the colour was beginning to turn - a sure sign that he had made it correctly. How could he think of a new hindrance to present to the Lestranges, when he was so worried? Nothing would settle. After that extraordinary meeting, he needed to stop, have a bath, rinse away his self-disgust, and rest. He could not enjoy this small indulgence, however, until he had informed Dumbledore of Voldemort's plans. Sitting down at the kitchen table, Snape picked up his quill and pulled a bit of parchment towards him. He tried to write, but he was shaking so much - from shock or exhaustion - that he accidentally pushed the quill right through the paper to the table beneath. He breathed deeply, willing his pulse to slow down, trying by sheer force of will to diminish the effects of the adrenalin that was pumping through his body. Feeling calmer, he dipped his quill into the inkpot once more and started to write "Dumbledore". Looking down, he saw that he had produced only a smear of ink across the top of the parchment. Snape sighed heavily, threw the broken quill across the room, and searched through the kitchen drawers. He knew he had a spare somewhere...
Half an hour later, a fresh quill having been found, Snape settled back down at the table. The searching and scrabbling around in drawers and cupboards had at least distracted him from worrying. Now, when he wrote "Dumbledore", he was pleased to see that he was not shaking anymore. He finished the message:
"Phoenix red. Serpent awake. Days only. Waiting."
Trying to remember Dumbledore's instructions, Snape folded the parchment down the middle, and then folded each half lengthways again. And again. It didn't look right. From what he understood, the end result was supposed to resemble a phoenix in flight. Irritably, he unfolded the paper and started again. Somewhere, after either the second or third lengthways fold, he was meant to fold the opposing flaps diagonally. Was this the right way? It looked like a lop-sided frog. Obviously not, then. Curse the man! There must have been an easier way than this of keeping in touch! Owls? But Snape recollected that he had waited several days for a reply from Dumbledore, last time he had sent a message in the traditional way. How about taking the second fold in the opposite direction, and then the diagonal? The finished result seemed better, this time - it did bring to mind a bird of some sort - although it was by now very crumpled, and only had one wing. Eventually, after innumerable variations on the order of folds, Snape managed to arrive at what he hoped was a satisfactory bird-shape. He retrieved the phoenix-feather from his safe and inserted it along what he assumed was the backbone of his paper sculpture. There remained only the question of actually sending it, now. He had better be outside for this. And so, feeling utterly ridiculous, Snape stood in his back garden, with the low autumn sun to his back, and threw his message into the sky - expecting it to come crashing down against the hedge at the far end of the lawn. Instead, a flashing gleam of gold, it shot high into the air and was gone.
After his bath, Snape hunted around for more tasks with which to fill the waiting time. He hoped, anxiously, that Dumbledore would reply before the cauldron of Veritaserum flared purple (the sign that the potion was ready). The Dark Lord had intimated that he would alert the Lestranges of its imminent completion, and Snape knew that they would be expecting to hear from him later that evening. The steam from the potion was making the whole house airless and Snape occupied himself with opening all the windows, allowing an unseasonably warm breeze to waft through all the rooms. With the sound of birdsong drifting into the kitchen, he prepared a meal, drank a cup of bitter herbal tea, and tidied away the clutter on the table. The damaged swan's feather on the kitchen floor caught his eye. Picking it up, he preened the ragged edges of the feather back into shape, and examined the blunt, snapped end. A sharp knife would do the trick.
Snape eased himself into an armchair and began restoring the quill to a sharp point. It was a delicate task but he was making good progress - until he was startled by a sudden burst of song from what sounded like a chaffinch. His hand slipped and he clumsily sliced a sliver of skin from his left thumb. He tore a strip from the bottom of his robes - who would notice? - and wrapped it around the wound, pressing hard to staunch the flow of blood. Silently cursing all songbirds, Snape returned to his scrutiny of the swan's feather, searching for inconsistencies, weak spots. The low hoot of an owl came in through a window on the far side of the room. Snape frowned. An owl at this time of day? Had Dumbledore replied already? What had happened to the phoenix-feather? No owl flew in, however. Perhaps he had imagined it. He was tired, after all. He stood up, intending to check outside to see if there really had been an owl.
"Drop the knife, Snape," growled the man who had suddenly appeared at the back door. "The house is surrounded. I think you'll find we've got you."
In one swift movement, Snape flung his knife and quill to one side and reached into his robes for his wand. Did they think that he could be taken without a fight? The door behind him swung open, and he turned instinctively at the noise. Too late, he realised his mistake, as the man at the back door shouted, "Petrificus Totalus!"
June 30th, 2004, 10:32 pm
A/N - a small part of this chapter is based on my perhaps erroneous assumption that the Dementors were not guards at Azkaban whilst Voldemort was in full power.
The Closed Meeting II
A door slammed, somewhere further down the corridor. Snape stared furiously at the walls of his cell. They had not questioned him. They had not listened to him. They had not even accused him. Was this fair justice? He thought again of Alastor Moody, his fists clenching involuntarily. He had ignored Snape's requests to speak with Dumbledore. And he had taken Snape's wand. He wouldn't be surprised if it was by now snapped in two. It seemed as if, for Moody, it was enough that he suspected Snape - the outcome of any trial was merely a formality. Snape had been disarmed before Moody's body-bind curse had worn off, and all he had been able to do was glare with frustration. They had bound him more securely with unbreakable silver ropes, and brought him here, to the Ministry of Magic, in almost total silence. The gleaming cords had reminded him of the night he had been initiated into the Death Eaters. Lord Voldemort, binding and controlling that hapless man. The man Snape had tortured. The man Lord Voldemort had killed. Snape shook his head - would he ever dislodge these memories? He cast around for something to distract himself with. A patch of sunlight glowed on the left-hand wall. Its slow creep towards the corner told him that sunset would not be long. And then, when night was truly fallen, the Veritaserum would be ready. What would happen if he were not back at his house by then? Would the Lestranges realise that something had happened, when he failed to contact them? How long before the Dark Lord discovered his capture?
A light tapping on the window caused him to look up for a moment, but it was only an insect, drowsy with the cold, trying to get in. Where was Dumbledore? But, even if Dumbledore were to vouch for him, what would happen? If the council released him, word would soon spread. How could he continue his work as a spy if his cover was blown? His master would hunt him down. The Death Eaters would destroy him. He would achieve nothing, if his secret were revealed. Perhaps his best course of action would be to admit his guilt, to confess to being a Death Eater. Let them send him to Azkaban! He resolved to keep secret his new alliance with Dumbledore. If only he could speak with Dumbledore, before the hearing. How much longer would they make him wait?
The lopsided glow of sunshine was broken by the bars on the window. Imprisoned. Was this what his uncle saw, every day? Bars across the light? Would Azkaban be like this? At least, if he were found guilty, the threat of retribution from his master would finally be removed. He would be safe, in an odd kind of way, inside those thick stone walls. He thought that he might even prefer the confines of one building, rather than continue to live with freedom and vulnerability. The prison's distance from the mainland, and the reputed harshness of the weather - these were minor problems compared to facing his master's anger. He was being cowardly, he knew. But this way he would be sure of peace - and survival. Somehow, since his meeting with Dumbledore, Snape had lost the urge for death. And besides - Snape smiled - the guards at Azkaban might be open to a little bribery. There had been talk, a few years ago, of introducing trolls as the main guards of the prison, but the majority of wizards on the council had been against such a move. This was to his own advantage - there could be no possibility of negotiations with trolls, but men could always be corrupted. His time with the Death Eaters had shown him tha-
There were footsteps, the rumble of voices in the corridor, and he knew they were coming for him. The council was ready. His trial was about to begin.
July 1st, 2004, 9:01 pm
The Closed Meeting III
Snape was escorted to a chair in the middle of the cavernous chamber. As he sat down, golden chains flared into life and entwined themselves around his arms and legs. He could move a little, but he could not stand up and, seeing this, the Ministry guards left him. Looking around, he noticed that most of the benches arrayed on all sides were empty. Only the seats immediately in front of him seemed to be occupied. The room was so dimly lit that he could make out nothing of the people sitting there. He had no way of knowing if Dumbledore was here. But then - the old doubt resurfaced - what if Dumbledore was here, and this was his plan all along? To trap Snape, trick him into a confession, and bring him here to face trial?
"Severus Snape," a curt voice rang out through the chamber, "you have been called here today, before the Council of Magical Law, to answer the charges that you are a Death Eater. It has been requested," he added, sounding irritated, "that this trial be held in closed session. The council has voted in favour of this action, and consequently anything that is said within these walls must remain within these walls."
This was interesting. Had Dumbledore arranged for the trial to be in secret? Snape would now be in less danger if he were to reveal that he was a spy, for no-one outside this room would ever know. His doubts subsided, for the moment, and he listened as the man (what was his name? Croak? Crab? Something like that) continued, "A witness has already testified against you. Do you have anything to add before we proceed to sentencing?"
Already? Trying to gain a little more time, to work out what he was going to do, Snape asked, "Am I not to know exactly what I am accused of? Can I not hear the evidence that you have heard?"
There was a muttering from the other witches and wizards sitting on the higher benches. The man in charge (Crouch! Snape thought, triumphantly) leant back and had a murmured conversation with an indistinct figure in the row behind him. Then, "Yes, very well. Weatherby," this to a man, not much older than Snape, sitting on Crouch's left, quill and parchment in hand, "could you read out Alastor Moody's testimony?"
"Certainly, Mr Crouch," replied Weatherby, rolling the parchment back a few inches. "A-hem. Err... 'I was patrolling the streets of Nether Poppleton when I heard screams from the local park. On arriving at the scene, I discovered a muggle in great distress and confusion. Another muggle, who had been behind what I believe they call a bush shelter, when questioned remarked that they thought there had been some trouble with out-of-towners. They remembered hearing an argument, something about a snake or grapes, although they were not sure which. I wiped their memories and made a note of the details. Upon hearing that Snape had been spotted in Knockturn Alley soon after, in the company of Goyle, another suspected Death Eater, I immediately put the Aurors into action to bring him in.' ...and... er..." he unfurled another inch of parchment, "he then went on to say, 'Yes, I know, but you only have to look at him to see that -' "
"That will do, Weatherby, thank you," said Mr Crouch, quickly.
Snape was astounded. They had no direct, compelling evidence at all! The Ministry must be getting desperate if they were prepared to arrest people on such flimsy grounds. His quandary of whether or not to admit his guilt was completely forgotten in his astonishment at Moody's testimony. Shaking off a slight dizziness, no doubt due to lack of food (for they had provided him with nothing since his capture), Snape said loudly, "Is that it? You have arrested me, removed my wand, and imprisoned me all afternoon - for that? You have no case against me at all!"
Mr Crouch replied, with biting annoyance, "No case? Do you have an alibi for the night in question, when that unfortunate muggle was attacked?"
Snape was silent.
"I thought so," said Crouch, with satisfaction. "And I think we would all be very interested to know what you were doing in Knockturn Alley last week. No doubt purchasing some new device for torture and pain in the service of Lord Voldemort!"
"No!" cried Snape, stung into responding. He half-rose from the chair, straining against the golden chains, not knowing what he was going to say before the words poured out of his mouth. "I was buying ingredients to make some Veritaserum!"
There was a sudden stillness in the chamber, as if everyone were holding their breath.
"Veritaserum?" said Crouch, keenly. "What reason would an out-of-work wizard have to make such a potion?"
Feeling suddenly very light-headed, Snape collapsed back into his chair.
July 2nd, 2004, 9:29 pm
The Closed Meeting IV
The room was spinning before Snape's eyes. He raised a trembling hand to his forehead, trying to shield his vision from the motion. He closed his eyes, hoping to regain his sense of control. Instantly, a confused mass of images rushed into his mind... The Dark Lord's taunting, "Who would protect you? Where would you go?"... Dumbledore smiling up at him in the Hog's Head... Trust... He knew what was going to happen to those children. Could he accept responsibility for their fate? ... Legilimency... Lord Voldemort again, "You do well to fear me, for I could indeed destroy you." ... Dumbledore's voice, "I will provide what protection I can ... I will vouch for you should the Ministry ever ask you to testify." ... His own voice, "I will tell you nothing" ... Trust... "Everyone deserves a second chance." ... Dumbledore smiling...
He was shaking with fatigue now, as exhausted as he had been on the night Dumbledore taught him occlumency. Someone in the chamber gently cleared their throat. Snape opened his eyes. There was a soft cough. Snape squinted into the shadows, as if he could make his eyes see in the dark just by concentrating. A slight movement from a figure just behind Mr Crouch, and Snape noticed a sudden flash, light reflecting on glass. In his mind he heard again Dumbledore saying, "I will vouch for you."
Dumbledore! Had he used legilimency to pull these memories to the forefront of Snape's mind? What was Dumbledore trying to tell him? He must have done this for a reason. Snape tried to make sense of the disparate images. There seemed to be a warning in there, that the Dark Lord would certainly destroy him once his defection was made public. A reminder that the children were more important than anything. And there was a reiteration of Dumbledore's binding promise to protect him. "I will tell you nothing." Why? What did it mean? It was too late for Snape to say nothing to the council. He had incriminated himself when he mentioned the Veritaserum. And now they also knew that he had no alibi. **** Dumbledore! Why hadn't he warned Snape earlier? This was no help at all.
"Well?" said Mr Crouch. "Have you any explanation?"
"Could you repeat the question?" Snape asked, buying time again.
"Why would you, an out-of-work and solitary wizard, have any reason to make Veritaserum?"
With the few extra seconds he had gained, Snape found no plausible answer. He decided to give up, admit his guilt. He was ready for Azkaban. He was ready to end this humiliating charade of a trial. "Because -"
"Because he is working undercover, Barty. He is spying on our enemies." With a rustle of robes, Dumbledore stood up and walked to the centre of the chamber, until he was standing next to Snape.
"Do not be ridiculous, Dumbledore!" spat Mr Crouch. "You have no proof of this! All afternoon you have been arguing in favour of this man, without giving any explanation, and now you say he is a spy! Why didn't you say so before we began the trial?"
"I hoped I would not need to. One of the essential requirements for a spy is, after all, secrecy."
"Dumbledore, you don't have to d-" Snape began. He was longing to break free from his chains, to stop Dumbledore from saying too much.
"I do, Severus," said Dumbledore, firmly. "This is my fault, and I will not allow you to be sent to Azkaban."
"This is irrelevant anyway," said Mr Crouch. "Without proof, you are merely making an empty assertion. We are under no obligation to believe what you say, Dumbledore."
"Oh, but I do have proof," smiled Dumbledore. He reached into his robes and pulled out a rather crumpled piece of parchment, fold-lines criss-crossing it in a complicated geometric pattern.
"What's that?" Mr Crouch snapped.
"A message I received earlier today from the accused," said Dumbledore, "warning me of new developments regarding Voldemort. We have only to ask Severus to jot something down for us now, and we will be able to compare the handwriting and have confirmation that he did indeed write this note."
"Let me see that." Dumbledore stepped forward and handed the parchment to Mr Crouch. Realization dawned on Snape - it was his phoenix-feather message. Well, at least he knew that Dumbledore had received it. Mr Crouch snorted with impatience. "This is gibberish. It means nothing. Phoenix red? What serpent?"
"'Phoenix red' refers to the level of urgency. In this case, red - which indicates a high level of danger and importance. The 'serpent' is Voldemort, of course. Here, Severus was warning me that Voldemort has become aware that his plans are known. The rest is self-explanatory, I should imagine."
"Well," sniffed Mr Crouch, "it is possible, I suppose, that this man is in fact on our side. But a cryptic message is not enough to satisfy me completely, Dumbledore. I propose that we adjourn this trial until this day week, when there will be an opportunity for further evidence to be presented - both for and against the accused. In the meantime, we shall of course retain the accused in our custody, in accordance with the guidelines laid down in Subsection 3.1 of the Treatment of Accused Felons Act 1733."
Snape lunged out of his chair again, forgetting the restraining golden chains. "Didn't you hear what Dumbledore just said?" he shouted. "We don't have enough time! The Dark Lord is making preparations, the Death Eaters will be active tonight! I must go!"
"You are in no position to address the council in such terms, Snape." said Mr Crouch.
"People could die! And you talk of rules and regulations! If you don't believe what people say when the facts are laid before you then how will you ever discover the truth?" With this last word an idea surfaced in Snape's mind. "As you know, I have a cauldron full of Veritaserum brewing back at my house. I am prepared to take a dose, if this will convince you of the veracity of my statements."
Mr Crouch, busy placing various papers back into his briefcase, paused for a second. "A trap." he said, "You are trying to lure us away from the safety of the Ministry building."
"I am not!" replied Snape, hotly. "We could summon the Veritaserum here, if that is your only objection."
Dumbledore had by now returned to the ranks of seats behind Mr Crouch. He was whispering intently to two witches on the second row. The others were talking amongst themselves, but Snape could not make out any distinct words. Finally, an elderly witch with blue hair, sitting on the back row, got to her feet and said, "Mr Crouch, I think we have heard enough to reach a verdict now."
"Really?" said Mr Crouch. "Would it not be preferable to gather more evidence?"
"No, Mr Crouch. Time does seem to be an issue in this case, and I think I speak for everyone when I say we have all made up our minds."
"Very well, very well," Mr Crouch sighed, as though he already sensed defeat. "Would all those who find the accused guilty please raise their hands now."
Snape anxiously scanned the chamber, and allowed himself a thin smile of relief when he saw that only Mr Crouch and two other wizards had their hands in the air.
"And those who find the accused not guilty?" asked Mr Crouch, with resignation in his voice.
One by one the remaining witches and wizards in the council chamber raised their hands, even Weatherby, Mr Crouch's assistant. Snape saw Mr Crouch frown when he noticed this, and Weatherby return the frown with a shrug and a wry nod of his head.
"So be it," said Mr Crouch. "Weatherby, let the record show that the accused, Severus Snape, was today tried by the Council of Law and found not guilty of the crime of being a Death Eater in the service of Lord Voldemort."
As these words were spoken, the golden chains holding Snape in his seat untangled themselves and fell to the floor. He was free again.
"And now, if you will excuse me, I have notes to prepare for a meeting with the Minister for Magic tomorrow morning," said Mr Crouch, brusquely.
"One moment, Barty," said Dumbledore. "I would just like to remind everyone in this room of the promise that was made this afternoon. No information revealed during this trial can be repeated to anyone, once we have left this room. I have taken the precaution of sealing that promise with a magical charm that can only be broken by myself. Secrecy is of the utmost importance - now more than ever."
"Thank you, Dumbledore," said Mr Crouch, icily, and, in a flurry of robes, paper, briefcase and quills, he left the room, with Weatherby trotting behind him.
Taking this as their cue to leave, the various members of the Council of Law gathered their respective robes, hats, bags, wands, vials, cushions and flasks together and filed out of the chamber - until, finally, Snape and Dumbledore had the room to themselves.
July 4th, 2004, 12:09 am
The Closed Meeting V
Still standing by the chair in the centre of the chamber, Snape could feel his whole body quivering with anger. It felt as though all the emotions - frustration, confusion and irritation - that he had experienced during the last few hours were coalescing into a ball of pure rage. He could feel it physically, as if his stomach was clenching itself into a fist. He could just make out Dumbledore's smile, through the gloomy light of the room. What was he smiling for? The trial had been a disaster and Dumbledore had admitted that it was his fault entirely. Snape's position as a spy had been made public. He had wasted almost the entire day in the Ministry of Magic. He still didn't have his wand. There would be rumours, spread by the Alastor Moody no doubt, that he had been arrested. He suspected that the outcome of the trial would not prevent people from treating him as a guilty man. The simple act of accusation would be enough to tarnish his reputation forever. So much for trying to undo the damage he had caused.
From his seat on the second row, Dumbledore said, "Severus -"
As if the word had released a spring somewhere inside, Snape crossed the floor in five angry strides. He leant over the first row of seats, so that his face was only six inches from Dumbledore's. "What was that all about?" he hissed.
"Subjecting me to a legilimental attack in the middle of my trial! Warning me to say nothing when I had already said too much!" Snape had expected to feel a little better after this outburst, but instead the spring inside him seemed to coil itself more tightly.
"It was the only way I could warn you, Severus," replied Dumbledore. "From the moment you walked into this room I tried to make contact with you, to use your memories to guide you. I had not expected to meet with any resistance."
Snape had already started to say, "What kind of help is tha-?" but broke off with a surprised, "What?" at Dumbledore's last words.
"I was saying that I was surprised to find you using occlumency. Indeed, I do not think that you were aware that you were doing so at the time, were you?"
"No," said Snape, thoughtfully, his tension subsiding a little. Had it become an automatic reflex, now, when he was in situations that required him to be on his guard? He would have to take care, next time he was with the Dark Lord, to ensure that he was completely in control of his defences.
"It was rather difficult to break through your barriers, Severus, which is why my warnings came too late," said Dumbledore, with pleasure in his voice. "As your occlumency teacher, I must confess that I am gratified to see how much progress you have made since our last meeting."
Snape enjoyed a brief moment of pride at Dumbledore's words, but then another thought struck him. "So, you were trying to access my mind from the very beginning? Is that why I became so light-headed?"
"Yes - an unfortunate side-effect," said Dumbledore with regret.
"But I wouldn't have said anything in any way incriminatory if I hadn't been overcome with dizziness." The circularity of the situation annoyed Snape. He would not have said anything if Dumbledore had not been trying to warn him not to say anything. "They had no worthwhile evidence against me. I had planned to say nothing."
"Alas, I did not know this," said Dumbledore. "If there had been the possibility of conversing before the trial commenced, we would have fared better, I think."
"And why didn't we?" asked Snape, his frustration welling up again. "Where were you when I was locked up in a cell all afternoon?"
"I was trying to help you!" snapped Dumbledore in return. It seemed that he too was beginning to lose patience. "I came here as soon as I heard you had been arrested, and I spent several hours persuading the other council members to vote in favour of a closed meeting. I told them that you had been an excellent student at Hogwarts. I told them of your recent bereavement, and how I feared that you would not be able to cope with a public trial when you were still in mourning. I told them that I was worried about the reputation of the Ministry - that so many trials had ended with a 'not guilty' verdict that the public would start to lose faith in our abilities to detect Death Eaters. I told them as much as I could, Severus, and it would have appeared deeply suspicious if I had then made any attempt to contact you before the trial was due to start."
Snape said nothing in reply. Instead, he made a kind of conciliatory mumbling noise, and turned back to the middle of the chamber. Dumbledore was right. They had both been striving for the same goal, after all. It was a matter of ill fortune that the trial had not gone as they had both hoped. As he looked at the golden chains lying in a heap at the base of the chair, he could feel his shoulders relax. He breathed out slowly. He did, at least, have his freedom now.
"I do feel, however," continued Dumbledore, wearily, "that I should have foreseen that you would be defending yourself by any means you could. The fault was mine, for not expecting you to use occlumency. I can see now that, since it was the only course of action open to you, it was inevitable that you should use it. For that, I am sorry."
July 5th, 2004, 10:56 am
The Closed Meeting VI
Mollified by these words, Snape had a sudden urge to apologize as well, to take some of the weight from Dumbledore. But, hadnt he displayed enough weakness in front of this man already? Instead, he rubbed his hands together briskly, trying to warm them, and moved back to the rows of seats. He picked up a piece of parchment that was lying forgotten on the floor and, sitting down in the chair recently vacated by Weatherby, twisted round to face Dumbledore once more.
"Ah, yes, the message," said Dumbledore. "It arrived at almost the same time as the Ministry's owl. Tell me what you know."
"Once the Veritaserum is ready, I am to proceed to the Longbottoms' village, with my accomplices, and question everyone we meet. Once we have discovered the Longbottoms' whereabouts, we are to immediately inform the Dark Lord." He glared at the crumpled piece of paper in his hand, and continued, "Are they well-concealed? They'd better be."
"Not as effectively as I would like. Frank will not trust the only charm that would be of any use to him. He says that he can look after himself with his wand, and that 'half-a-dozen Aurors are better protection than some complicated old-fashioned spell that hardly anyone has heard of.' I tried to dissuade him, to no avail." Dumbledore shook his head.
"But this could be useful," said Snape, slowly. "I do not know of all the Dark Lord's plans, but he wants me to be ready to apparate by his side, the very second I receive his call. Usually he would delegate tasks such as this to the inner circle of the Death Eaters, but it looks as though he wants to deal with these children himself. The opportunity is too good to ignore - the Dark Lord out in the open, vulnerable for the first time in months."
"There will be no Death Eaters to protect him, then, when he makes his move?" asked Dumbledore.
"Apparently not. He let slip something about not wanting any of his followers to know about the prophecy," Snape replied, shuddering as he recalled the interview in the pine forest.
"And yet he uses you?" said Dumbledore, puzzled.
Snape paused. Should he tell Dumbledore? He had managed not to think of this since his last meeting with Lord Voldemort, and he had hoped he would never have to. "He - that is - I - think that there will be no further need of me after this mission is complete."
"Did he say that?" asked Dumbledore, sharply.
"No," said Snape, "but I inferred as much." He looked sidelong at Dumbledore, unwilling to meet his gaze. "And so did you, I think."
Dumbledore said nothing in response to this. And indeed, thought Snape, what could he possibly say that would be of any comfort, now? Glancing at his hands, he noticed that he had spent the last few silent minutes automatically refolding the message. He put the battered paper bird to one side and, trying to concentrate on the positive, the fact that he was working towards his master's defeat, he said, "On the day itself, my guess is that I will either hear from him after he has dealt with the Potters, or just before he attempts to attack the Longbottoms. You tell me that the Potters are as safe as they can be, and that they have taken precautions against the spy in their midst. I'm assuming that they think it must be Black, of course."
"I am not at liberty to say," said Dumbledore, frowning.
"Well, anyway, if he tries to go to the Potters first, he will presumably fail to find them and will then go on to the Longbottoms. You say they are not untraceable, and so he will be able to get very near to their hiding place. If I send word to you, the moment he contacts me, then you will be able to prepare the Aurors. With surprise on your side, you should have no trouble in either capturing or defeating him. If he should go to the Longbottoms first, then the plan will still work, because he will still have to summon me and I will still be able to alert you."
Dumbledore nodded, but the frown was still there. "I reached a similar conclusion when I read your message this afternoon. But - many things could go wrong with that plan, Severus... I still do not see how the prophecy..." His voice died away, as though he were sunk in thought.
Snape did not see any problem with the words of the prophecy. He knew, from his own investigations, that it had been something about 'one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord' being born in July. Snape abhorred the idea of attacking infants, but it made sense to him that his master would want to eradicate any perceived threat. After all, the successful outcome of his counter-plan hinged on Lord Voldemort's desire to tackle his potential enemies himself. A thought struck Snape.
"Are you going to confront him in person?" he asked.
There was no answer. A few seconds' thought showed Snape why. If he was to be tortured or questioned by the Dark Lord, then it would be better that he knew as little as possible of Dumbledore's intentions. He should have realised that Dumbledore wouldn't answer. He shouldn't have asked. Wanting to hide his blunder, he quickly said, "So, is this to be our plan, then?"
"Yes," Dumbledore nodded, seriously. "As yet I can see no other way and I fear that we do not have enough time to formulate a better one."
They stood up, and Snape closed his mind to the possibility that this might be the last time he met with Dumbledore.
"There remains only the question of retrieving your wand," said Dumbledore.
"My wand!" exclaimed Snape. "I forgot! Moody took it! It's probably destroyed by now. Alastor Moody -"
"- handed it in at the security desk, as he was supposed to under Ministry guidelines," interrupted Dumbledore, smoothly. "You will find it in the Atrium. There are signs to guide you there."
This was 'goodbye' then? So be it. No doubt Dumbledore had preparations of his own to make. And - Snape checked his watch - the time!
"My Veritaserum will be ready within half an hour," he said. "I must go!"
"I will walk with you," said Dumbledore, seeing Snape's anguished expression.
They both walked quickly towards the door, and Snape tried to think of something useful to say, something that would let Dumbledore see how grateful he was for the chance he had been given. Reaching the door, Dumbledore gravely opened it and ushered him through. He turned to face Dumbledore, wondering just exactly what he was going to say.
Before he could open his mouth, however, Dumbledore had grasped his right hand and said, "Good fortune go with you, Severus. I will await your call." They shook hands and then Dumbledore suddenly laughed and said, "Oh my hat! I've left my flask of tea under my seat! You go on, Severus. I will only be a moment."
Snape smiled in return and walked slowly along the corridor, listening out for Dumbledore's footsteps, waiting for him to catch up. They came to him, then, the right words. He returned to the chamber, wanting to speak to Dumbledore immediately, before he lost his grasp on what he wanted to say. He opened the door, and then stopped, overcome. The room was empty. Dumbledore had gone.
September 16th, 2004, 9:11 am
The Last Meeting
The fire was burning low in Snape's study. He thought briefly of throwing another piece of wood onto it, but made no effort to get out of the armchair. The half-darkness suited his current state of mind and, because the only window in the room faced north, no sunlight ever penetrated the dusty window-panes. Not that there would have been any light today anyway - black clouds were hanging overhead, threatening rain but bringing only an oppressive weight of gloom. No candles were lit either. Snape didn't think he could tolerate even their feeble light. He stared morosely at the glowing embers in the grate, waiting.
For three days now he had spent most of his time in this room, sat hunched in his chair, occasionally scratching at his dark mark, waiting for the his master's summons. Dirty plates and mugs were piled on the floor around the legs of his chair. An uneaten sandwich lay on the hearth, the crusts curling in the heat. His hands were grey with dirt - what was the point in washing? There would be time enough for that, after... Well, there would be time. Or there wouldn't be.
His mission with the Lestranges had been a success. They had questioned more than a dozen different muggles, and had received several identical answers. There could be no doubt that they had found the exact hiding-place of the Longbottoms. Rodolphus had informed their master at once. And then - nothing. Why had Lord Voldemort made no move yet?
Snape had received a short message from Dumbledore, via phoenix-feather, letting him know that they were ready and would put the plan into action on his word. But still nothing had happened. How long was everyone prepared to wait? How long was he prepared to wait?
A spark soared up the chimney, out of sight. Seeing it, Snape saw the parallel with his own hope - something that flared into life, and was gone. He prodded the fire with the poker, stirring more sparks out of the charring wood. Hopes, dreams, ambitions - all gone.
Looking back on the decisions he had made, especially since meeting Lucius Malfoy at Hogwarts, Snape couldn't help but feel angry. It was ridiculous that the mess he was in now, the ruin that his adult life had become, should have been decided by an eleven-year-old boy - no matter that the child was himself, more than a decade ago. The world should be better organised than that. He pushed the ashes in the fire around once more and watched with a melancholic satisfaction as the sparks disappeared.
The chill in the room was too much, though. He needed to stay alert, so that he would be able to move at a moment's notice. Another log was thrown carelessly onto the fire. The few flames that had been flickering over the remains of the fire were immediately extinguished. Snape sat in the shadows. He knew that the light would return, once the fire had taken hold of the fresh wood.
Was it wise, to dwell so much on past mistakes? He didn't think he could stop himself, even if he wanted to. And besides, what better time was there than this, the end of the Old Year? It seemed very fitting to Snape that he should contemplate the direction his life had taken in the last twelve months, now, on the day that the Old Year died. The eve of a new year. Hallowe'en.
And that's it. :) If you thought this story was good, bad or indifferent then I'd be grateful for your comments, which you can leave on the spangly new feedback thread (http://www.cosforums.com/showthread.php?t=27474).
December 29th, 2004, 1:04 am
Hello! I'm quite cheekily bumping this story one last time before I go. :) Enjoy, or not, as you prefer.
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